The Triple Goddess Trials
Me and Medusa
“I saw you once, Medusa; we were alone.
I looked you straight in the cold eye, cold.
I was not punished, was not turned to stone –
How to believe the legends I was told?”
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
The summer I turned thirteen years old, the Atlantic Ocean woke me up like no alarm clock ever could.
It was more than the thrill of cold water and salt, gritty and fresh on my ankles. Or how the waves sent me tumbling through womb-like sand storms and I held my breath as long as I could in that suspended sensation of circular time.
I noticed that the ocean unleashed curious rules of gravity—heavy as quicksand against the current; light and easy as a flung arrow with it. I liked to play with the forces underneath, swim within the zigzag of the current until I was eventually spit out to the thud of the beach.
That summer, the adult world seemed more perplexing than ever. Both of my parents had remarried which formalized two new households. There was no shortage of love. My real challenge, like that of so many children of divorced parents, boiled down to pragmatism.
Like how does one, in the face of two (sometimes conflicting) sets of familial interests, priorities and my own burgeoning hormones, answer an adult question somewhat honestly without: a) hurting someone’s feelings by mistake; b) acting like a jerk and getting into trouble; and/ or c) unwittingly launching World War III?
More difficult still, there was the adolescent ocean of my self to navigate. New restless spirits, of the kick-down-the-door variety, but laden with extreme friendliness, had suddenly moved into every corner of my body. Whenever they (me?) attempted to speak, a surge of energy launched fragmented armies of thoughts into my chest that would frequently turn back mid-larynx–terrified. I didn’t dare give voice to the social suicide streak that blurted out chaotic excited observations to ill-chosen audiences.
My step-dad landed a job in Pennsylvania where I officially became the new kid in town. So I was thankful when I met the girl around the corner (bright eyed, always laughing) who quickly adopted me into her neighborhood tribe. One day, after school, just as I was relaxing into the cool girl’s giggle, just as I smiled up at the soft sun in early Spring, the gang started talking about the local church where everyone in the neighborhood seemed to go, but me. When they asked me where I went, I felt a tiny prickle of warning run up my neck, but nevertheless, “Oh, um, I’m Unitarian,” I said, launching into an explanation of my faith with something like the following:
“They believe Jesus was a leader with great teachings. So he was a good person but maybe not actually God and actually God might not be real and anyway you don’t have to believe it. You can believe in other gods too…Kind of,” I continued in an increasingly meek tone, looking around for sympathetic eyes. None. My storyline, after all, lacked a compelling plot line (or, even coherence) and I began to fear what I might say next. Instead I ended softly and quickly with something like, “Do you ever wonder?”
My friends’ combined reaction to my religious musings?
Eyes rolled in every corner and I was branded an atheist (and a communist) after which I sensed possible excommunication from the nicest coolest group of kids my age I had met in the area. Secretly, I felt a little hopeless, for even though my ideas were inspired by my Unitarian upbringing, even in that generous church I felt distinctly out of place. I sometimes envied my friends’ assured (and somewhat bored) sense of knowing. Could they really name the vast sky and its source? Their shared understanding seemed like a couch forever a room away, a warm cozy place which I could see and ponder but never find rest upon myself.
Did they ever wonder?
Because I meant that part the most. Surely, someone else must wonder too, not just about God, but about other things. Like if a thought made noise. Or, what exactly happened to thoughts once they came out as words? This transition, whether deliberate or automatic, seemed a mysterious (and sometimes dangerous) space to me. Who, what came before, after? Did God care (and how was this practically feasible!) about things like supermarkets and farms (and if so, why were some supermarkets and farms so much better than others)? Telescopes only went so far.
There were more frequent and less philosophical wonderings too. Like, which way could I walk home from school to avoid the neighborhood bully who sniffed out my intense self-doubt like a bloodhound? Could I somehow get the cute guy down the street to talk to me just once, particularly if my friends were watching? And how could I get out of gym class where the mean kids roamed in between the lockers, the uniforms smelled funny and made me feel self-conscious about my thighs.
In between it all, I wondered if God and Jesus did exist after all. It occurred to me that I would get in deep (hot) trouble for questioning Their existence in the first place, particularly blended with my other weird thoughts. But this idea felt sowrong to me. Concern over something as petty as my belief or disbelief seemed the greatest proof of any superior being’s lack of divinity. And at this juncture, I would find myself back at the beginning of my cycle of questions.
I began to wonder if holding back a rather large and inconvenient impulse in myself might not be the best policy–until I had a better handle on her at least. But not when I was alone on the beach, where my thoughts moved in cloudy luscious circles, from my mom to my dad and their separate lives to my laughing friends to the neighborhood bully to that which lay beyond the fresh and silent night air and back again, all to the loud applause of the waves.
Once upon a time, over fifty centuries ago, a goddess shocked entire flocks of seabirds with her screams. It was a mild day off the Mediterranean coast of Libya. Hundreds of Storm Petrels and Pelicans lifted their wings in panicked unison as the marine goddess Ceto grasped the hands of her midwife and squeezed the old woman’s fingers. There was no composure in her wailing. From ankle to neck, the pain knocked at her bones in terrible circles. And it seemed to her that her child was falling down inside of her (she was so dizzy) hanging on, cliff after cliff, a crooked boulder stumbling into the shock of the world.
A marine goddess with cloudy black eyes, daughter to Gaia herself, Ceto usually held her large muscular frame high. For that, she had a reputation for pride, which blended into an impression of callousness and cruelty, which of course barely skirted the perimeter of her character.
Today, Ceto’s pain was more than a physical struggle. The goddess had been trying to absorb the gossip she had just heard from her good friend. “Just the distortions of those who should know better,” Aliya had tisked, “I’m sorry I have to tell you. Here, you must move for the pain,” she guided Ceto along the floor of the temple, which today, shimmered with sunlit hues of gold.
The latest buzz recounted Ceto’s infatuation with a gigantic sea serpent and the rumors multiplied from there without sense or scale. Some said the serpent was the size of a small island. And that Ceto turned herself into a dragon whenever she met her lover. Others warned that Ceto’s next child would have scaly skin and poisonous fangs. There was talk of capturing the infant at birth.
Ceto had ruled the sea long enough to know that serving as a subject of gossip was a natural extension of her duties. She’d heard herself described as a wise beauty and demented hag on the same day and laughed it off. But this time her friend’s words sent a chill of terror through her. However false, the talk affirmed her very real fears, which she had not yet admitted to anyone including the father of all her children, Phorcys, a sea god with crab-red skin and a fish tail.
Like most tightly guarded secrets, Ceto’s came out in illogical fragments, with no beginning or end, like a cat chasing its tail. “She comes. I tell you, she is like no other, Aliya. Beautiful, but…she warns me…in the dream. Is it a bird? The snake…”
“Beautiful! She comes through the great distance of sleep?” the midwife interrupted her friend. “No, my dear, this is good. This must be a sign of her strength, to travel in such a way to her mother! I promise you.”
“No!” Ceto grit her teeth. “Stop, please! You mean well, but you don’t understand. She is so tiny, fragile, a tiny shell of a girl. Such a thin shell, Aliya. What if I can’t? I don’t think I can! The sight of her brings me,” she stopped herself and fell forward as a contraction came, “sorrow, pain, I don’t know. She is..I am…so,” she finally let herself weep as the temple’s engraved walls blurred around her, “scared!”
Diary of a Wimpy Mortal
Ah, fear and doubt. Unlike, Ceto I ruled no temple and the birth of my adolescent self, the one I might have labored for, remained dormant, if restless in the fetal position.
Twelve going on thirteen felt like a dreamy blank slate, upon which I lacked the courage to write much of substance. What if I wrote something wrong and couldn’t change it back? I remember entire days, weeks, months, for the sleeping waking underlying feeling of stomach-clenched uncertainty. I sensed a large failure inside of me, lurking, waiting to happen. Best to delay expression.
For instance: schoolwork. I’d always been the kind of student who needed to work hard, but now the classroom seemed the least likely place for my success. The subject where I had once rapidly memorized the planets in order of their proximity to earth and romantically imagined the cosmos – science – now seemed dull and remote. I watched the cool kids as they sat in the back of the class and yawned.
English! The words at which I had once marveled in memorization and play of grammatical syntax (you are, she is, they are, and the like…swimming through my notebooks in endless permutations) to the delight of a teacher whose name I still remember with affection. How could it all leave me cold now? My teachers seemed to feel the same way about me. Maybe this was my “real” self finally coming out, I reasoned, entirely ignoring the obvious maxim that you get what you give.
I wasn’t athletic and now smart seemed a less distinct possibility, so the question remained, where would I make my mark? I experienced absolutely nothing of the certainty some kids possessed (or perhaps pretended to) let alone the self-assurance of kid superstars, about whom parents might rave at dinner. “Oh did you hear about so and so, you know he’s an A student, honey. And all this time he’s been organizing a trip to Europe while raising money for the local hospital!” How were such franchises of young accomplishment even possible? After all, my normal emotional terrain lurked on the edge of a cliff, consumed with precipitous self-doubt. The neighborhood bully smelled it and let’s face it, so could some of my new friends.
The Birth of Medusa
“Drink this,” the midwife reached for Ceto’s hands and pulled her to her feet, leading her to a steaming cup. “That’s better. I promise you, dreams are good, Ceto, even the worst ones. You know this. You are forgetting our rituals. Now, we will walk. Let’s keep moving. It will help you speak, and you must tell me everything, yes?”
Ceto forced herself up, but she didn’t know if she could open up to Aliya—even now. In her dreams, her unborn daughter walked toward her with what looked like hundreds of snakes or birds in her hands. At first, Ceto had screamed aloud, felt her own sound rise in suffocating bubbles as though she were under water. When she awoke the shame was more than she could bear. A goddess who cowered at whimsical birds and snakes? What kind of a mother was she?
Through clouds of sleep,a tiny child had held her forefinger to lips, as though she were revealing a secret or a warning. Her words came less like speech than a flutish melody, over and over again. She would beg for help in a tone that tortured Ceto. And with her request, for the first time in millennia, Ceto knew no remedy offhand. Instead, the goddess knew that birds could mean death (but also freedom) and snakes (who shed and renewed their skin regularly) guarded the mysterious monthly cycles of mortal women. And the name the tiny infant whispered to her? She would need protection.
Ceto waited for a more favorable premonition. For her powers and divine insight to shed more useful knowledge on the subject of her unborn daughter. Nothing came. Only, today, the midwife’s warning, only this hint of possible upset from her own people. Maybe, her child was already in danger—in the heart of her own temple? She shuddered as Aliya looked straight in her eyes and said nothing but, like the good friend she was, forced a smile and held her hand.
Now it was early evening. Palm trees hissed in the breeze and it shocked Ceto to sense dusk (was it not just morning?) and a tangerine-pink sky through her peripheral gaze. These were auspicious signs, the midwife soothed, not a storm in sight, and it softened the sharp kicking at Ceto’s ribs. It had not been the same when she bore her other children who seemed to emerge with a blink of thunder and lightning.
When the baby’s cry came, it rang out behind her, underneath her, the midwife scurrying and reaching, arranging, re-arranging. An hour later, Ceto beamed at the sight of her newborn. If Medusa was born the child of a serpent, there were no signs of scaly skin or any traces of poison. No trace of repugnance in the eyes of the mother. Instead, she felt the soft velvet moonlight spread out inside of her, a pillow to finally rest upon. “Medusa,” she sighed with happy exhaustion as the child moved with clenched fists to her chest. “My lovely Medusa.”
A Philosophical Detour in Nomenclature
Perhaps you are wondering why Ceto shivered at the name her unborn child whispered in wild vague dreams. After all, the root of the name “Medusa” connotes profound wisdom (sometimes interpreted as feminine wisdom); in Sanskrit (medha) Greek (metis) and Egyptian (met or mat).
First worshipped as a Serpent Goddess in Libya, Medusa’s lineage spread (and of course, constantly changed) across the Mediterranean through the coasts of Africa to Greece to Turkey for thousands of years, so her name collected the cumulative human interpretation of many ancient languages.
According to ayurvedic sources, “medha” is connected with the term ”Madhri Sangame” which translates directly into “to meet,” “to come together” or “to harmonize.” And when you consider the enormity of Medusa’s task, the idea of “harmonizing” proves a useful, if insanely difficult term.
There’s a reason why Medusa’s image was commonly sculpted upon the walls or doorways of sacred goddess temples—a warning for the uninitiated and disrespectful. In fact, the image of Medusa can still be found in the ancient temple of Artemis in Greece where she serves as a fierce symbol of protection.
Over time, Medusa has been associated with “blood wisdom” or menstruation (on which human birth still depends) the totality of time (past, present and future) and of course, plucked from cycle upon cycle, the endless riddle of mortality (the stark reality of individual death). And that’s a lot of mojo to “bring together” in one pair of eyes.
The sum total of Medusa’s wisdom might just require an inhuman level of understanding. A fluid-like reasoning behind one’s eyes that allows for the quick urgency of the building wave with the same speed as its retreat, back and forth like loose sails on an unstoppable wind (one might need to duck one’s head repeatedly). Romantic “feelers” will immediately lose all traction in Medusa’s gaze but it’s no walk in the park for those of a more dogmatic inclination, who are just as likely to freeze in place for eternity. (How can this happen next to that, they might scream! But of course, this and that will pour down right on top of one another, hard and fast as rain, indiscernibly to the seeds…)
So you’ll fully understand why Ceto, with a mother’s uncanny intuition, began to hatch some frantic plans to hide and protect her soon-to-be famous daughter.
The next day, Ceto held and swaddled her newborn in a haze of determination. If she was relieved at the peaceful circumstances following Medusa’s birth, she couldn’t ignore her friend’s words or her own dreams. Aliya was right. No matter how frightening, dreams offered her a place to begin, breadcrumbs with which to begin her new quest.
Ceto chose a knowing air when she sent Aliya to fetch her older daughters, Stheno and Euryale. And when the bold tall (much like her mother) Stheno and shy determined Euryale stood before their mother with affectionate smiles, she announced that the infant Medusa would require their combined protection at all times. “Fine, fine, yes,” nodded the girls. But, what she said next shocked them.
“We must all rejoice for the construction of Medusa’s new sacred temple.”
But I don’t have a temple, Euryale the younger thought to herself.
“Surely you mean your temple, Momma, right?” said Stheno.
“No,” countered Ceto. “For Medusa, we will build a new temple that no one will be able to see. We must always keep it secret. Always! She will show us…”
“WHY?” Stheno blurted out mid way through her mother’s sentence, “Our temple is one of the most revered in the land. It will take us too much time to build a new one that would equal even half of its worth and reputation!” She had now rushed to stand across from her mother.
“This isn’t just for us, Stheno. How can I explain? Medusa is not like you or even …me,” Ceto said and moved to cradle Stheno’s chin in both of her palms. She then quickly moved her gaze toward the tiny baby wrapped in blankets.
“Momma, I don’t understand!?” Stheno pressed but stopped herself when she saw her mother’s silent tears.
“Some paths choose us,” said Ceto, after a long silence. “We must act and do our best to act well, but that’s not the same thing as choosing. You will see.” And, as she spoke she realized the truth of her words, and found she could rest in them.
But the sisters didn’t realize any such truth or rest, even as they nodded their heads silently and puzzled at their mother’s sorrow. It made no sense to them. Were they not all healers, they asked each other again and again that night. Had they not trained their entire lives in one of the most renowned temples known for centuries in every land? Why could they not heal their own sister? A month later, they asked their father outright, “What could possibly be so wrong with Medusa that we can’t fix it?” His ruddy cheeks paled for a moment but he let out nothing more than a weak but honest, “I really don’t know.”
The Sound of the Sea
“Whatever you do, don’t be scared of your hunger….[or] you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else,” the protagonist in Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge advises her high school math student.
I’d like to add to this fine quote and suggest that we might want to be a little afraid after all, for this metaphorical mortal hunger, whether it be of the heart, ego, soul or mind, not only affirms our life force but, left unchecked, can rapidly veer toward rapaciousness, a state of mind in which one has little regard for consequence. I think the author’s larger point is that when we let fear dominate our own fingerprint-like hunger, we hide the most vital part of ourselves from ourselves – and there is real danger and, often, reprehensible waste in what is left unexplored.
What was it that made me taste my own foodless hunger surrounded by sand dunes and the sound of the falling surf? We would drive down to my step-dad’s place from a benign starting point where colonial houses stood like awkward party guests, facing vaguely away from one another, aloof upon tidy lawns as the sounds of sprinklers filled the lazy summer air.
My younger brother and I would race to the car to determine who would flip the back seat button first, a long-standing competition between us at our old house, a place I missed. Then we’d climb into the thick smell of vinyl seats, swallowed up into my mom’s Volkswagen.
In July, it usually burnt the back of my legs and my butt to sit down, so I’d brace myself for a second. Often within a few traffic lights, I’d drift out of consciousness on the bumpy gravel roads past the farm-stands all the way through the Pine Barrens. But at the first smell of the sea, right before we hit the Causeway, I would bolt up from my backseat stupor.
Photo: Martin Beek
Over the years, Medusa rarely had to coax Stheno or Euryale to play games with her. They seemed to follow her everywhere. In fact, for both sisters, what began as reluctant chores and forced guardianship turned into the comfort of ritual and deep protective love. But Medusa taxed them with her mischievous streak. She loved to build gigantic caves made of sand where she would hide and shock her panicked sisters, who feared the worst until they found Medusa rolling back and forth with laughter. Or she’d pretend she was a crab or lizard with a secret name, and refuse to speak to them for days if they didn’t guess it properly. Or, she’d make up stories about mysterious underwater caves where she would “lead” them on quests of maddening circles. Inevitably, they’d wind up right where they started.
One day, almost by mistake, Medusa discovered an alarming ability to move through time. Starting with minutes and eventually moving through centuries, she traveled hour upon hour, her physical body frozen in space until the day came when her sisters found themselves shouting (with all of their combined volume) straight into Medusa’s strange and far off gaze.
Steno and Euryale soon accepted Medusa’s absences. For one, upon Medusa’s return, she would tell them outrageous stories about gigantic animals, imitating conversations between whale-birds and sparrow-dragons, valleys filled with talking snakes who whispered strange, sometimes hilarious words, which Medusa parodied with perfection, eyes rolled back in her head, tongue curled into a lisp. Sometimes they wouldn’t stop laughing for hours.
But other times Medusa would return paralyzed with fear and sorrow. Impossible to console, Medusa would look straight through Stheno and Euryale, babbling behind silent tears, hugging herself and refusing to make eye contact. Over the years, the sisters had watched Medusa succumb to fevers and other kinds of diseases from which they were completely immune. From such illnesses, they had derived healing techniques for any number of maladies.
But this time Medusa remained silent and sullen when they questioned her about her mysterious symptoms. Perhaps you’ve heard that one day Medusa’s shoulders lifted into the wings of a bird. (It’s true.) On another, she felt the horns of a bull rising from her scalp when she scratched above her ears. (True again.) And, one fateful night, when she ran her fingers through her hair, she discovered smooth ribbed skin and tiny forked tongues flicking at the air around her neck. And fangs.
But, do you know about the questions?
The smell of the sea was liquid in the summer. As if someone threw sugar, vinegar, fish, salt and old garbage into a blender. Sometimes, I liked it. Sometimes it made me feel sick. It didn’t matter. Inside that scent, there lived a muddle of awkward feelings, a tiny ache that could spread to gigantic proportions with shocking speed, as though I missed my mom, dad or best friend. The same cold catch in my throat. The same sudden lift in my stomach. Except, as I watched the scattered foam rise and fall in the shape of ornate question marks, I began to crave something for which I had no comprehensible remedy.
Maybe it was the allure and terror of that gigantic blue loneliness right in front of me. But I didn’t yet respect solitude (a condition typically viewed as unfortunate, yes?) for what it had the potential to unearth. I felt so serious when I let the ocean mood take over. Or as serious as you could be for an almost 13-year old girl who liked mood rings and was still trying to figure out how to use a curling iron properly.
Mostly, the wide open feeling made me want to run for cover, to head blindly for the company of others. But in a few of my rare braver moments, I would follow the dark and dreamy mood. I dared not explain it to anyone, perhaps in the same way you can’t easily, if ever, explain the thoughts leading you to a prayer or a poem. Only no such respectable prayer or poem could be found in my case. Just the tiny seeds and senses from which such expressions might arise—sights, smells, sounds, doubt–like siblings whipping a ball back and forth between one another.
Best to keep quiet when the ambiguity of the sea surged through me. Once spoken, words had the power to dilute strange delicious thoughts into circles of horrific insecurity not unlike brown water swirling down an ugly sewer in the aftermath of a storm. Words were riddles with exponential avenues for interpretation and I simply could not keep up with their erratic possibilities.
“On no, did they think I meant that?” and/or “Oh God, how do I explain?” I might silently repeat to myself as I imagined different scenarios of comprehension/miscomprehension and corresponding levels of anxiety swarmed like bees inside my ribs. Often, when I stared into questioning eyes I would horrify myself by continuing to speak (as in the aforementioned “where do you go to church” example) the earth like sand caving ten feet at once, slipping beyond my control, like water swallowed up by the sand.
Imagine chasing one wave—impossible! So I liked to think that I discovered in the sea an unspeaking multifarious ally—in which many, sometimes conflicting truths merged together in one ever-changing question mark.
Stuff like: How much life did the planet hold? (Didn’t that answer change every minute?) How many pieces of seaweed, how many human beings, how many killer whales?
How much did it weigh and what could possibly hold it up? And what, who held that up? Would it all simply fall apart one day when the sun was shining bright and children played with buckets on the sand?
Have you ever watched a tiny wave grow and suddenly change into something more ominous? That was a good metaphor for my anxieties. What if a desire to help one person could actually hurt someone else on the other side of the ocean? (a chill of horror at the sheer enormity of life and how to assess my responsibility in the scheme of things.)
When (could I discover the very second?) did intent become action and then consequence? What was in between? Where did the cycle stop or at least pause?
By the time she was thirteen, Medusa had been well trained by her mother and sisters in the transcendent art of collective inquiry (best described as a sacred forum where fact, emotion, sensation, desire, and intellect might gather round the table as awe-struck colleagues rather than skirmishing children).
Who were these animals emanating from her scalp and back at night? Surely, they had a message to deliver. How could she (could she, should she?) influence their collective energy? Did she possess a gift or a curse? Could a curse be transformed into a tool for the greater good? Why did people avoid her? Should she be afraid of herself? For she sometimes was. And the main question: How could she live in-between these sensate experiences, dry fascinating animal land and dream foamy ocean worlds that claimed her—for she had no alternative but to dwell in both, did she? It was the equivalent of choosing not to breathe or drink! To leave behind either was unthinkable. And then, with the acknowledgement of leaving, another question arose with the force of a charging bull.
It was a stormy afternoon when Medusa finally confessed her troubles to Stheno and Euryale. (Or some of them—she couldn’t bring herself to mention the serpents). Worried, the sisters brought Medusa to their mother in a blur of sobs.
“Why do I bleed?” came like an accusation when Medusa saw her mother. “Am I so different from you?” she cried and lowered her head into the crook of Euryale’s shoulder. “Am I?” Medusa asked as she pushed her skin and walked toward Ceto. “Will we leave one another?” It marked a turning point for them all when her mother simply nodded her head and reached for her daughter. “Medusa,” her throat knotted, “I can’t change this no matter how much I love you,” she whispered and her ribs began to shake. “You don’t seem to know how much you have to teach…The time has come.”
“ I don’t care!…” Medusa shouted but she let herself be held.
“Whether you care or not doesn’t matter. You have responsibilities,” said Ceto firmly. “They will follow you…and us.”
It was the year after Medusa’s time discovery, under their mother’s direction, when the sisters’ games took on a more intellectual quality. On top of Medusa’s time adventures, they began to combine their knowledge: the properties of breath, the elements, plants, sounds, animals, ideas, and emotions, constructing complicated games in their quest to alchemize what they saw as their shared divine and mortal wisdom. Day after day, they would quiz one another in dialogue that became addictive and at the end of dawn-dusk long sessions, slightly ludicrous. “What heals wounds faster than honey or animal grease, is associated with minerals found near sea coral, with a sensation of just diving into water? Oh the emotion is surprise…” Medusa might ask smirking.
A year later, no one could match the rare collection of knowledge elicited from the triad’s unique line of questioning (their secret, of course, was simple collaboration, endless forms of respect, and a full unabashed embrace of idiosyncrasy). Though they had many detractors, their reputation grew. Yet, whether others judged the triad’s gifts and habits as talent or downfall, it didn’t matter. The sisters approached their daily life in the same way that others might gather ingredients to make a meal. They were driven to their work through a daily principal hunger.
It’s true. When the loneliness came, it still felt like a rock in Medusa’s throat. She would reach for her mother’s gift—a tiny figurine carving of a snake in a locket—a necklace her mother had given her during a cherished private conversation. “Do not speak openly of this,” her mother cautioned warmly, standing behind her and clasping the necklace around her daughter’s neck. “Like the snake, find your balance between revelation and preservation.”
But there was another even more recent accompaniment to Medusa’s private grief. Something she started to notice with the concentrated attention of a child learning to walk. A new sensation located behind her eyes, beneath her forehead, that made it difficult to abandon any moment at all, even her darkest ones. For with proper attention to her footsteps, with balance and frustration and playfulness, every new moment opened doorways upon doorways of indescribable vision. Medusa’s invisible temple (the one her mother foretold and her sisters helped construct) seeped into her spine, ribs and shoulders and she found with amazement that the more she rested inside its shelter, the more it bolstered the temporary force of her heart.
Medusa dared to look directly into the knowledge of her body.
And unlike those who would soon be moved to frozen terror at the sight of her, one by one, she began to befriend (and so better understand) the spirits that came alive in her at night. Was not the divine her very own family—her own flesh and blood? And sensing her natural affection and acceptance, the mysteries flocked to her with infinite variety—and like nature itself—never ceased to change shape and beg for interpretation. They swished down her scalp and neck in the rain. They rang in her ears when she stood at the edge of the rocks, utterly awake before the quiet golden sea at dawn. They loosened her elbows and hips when she swam inside the current, afraid and alive and for the moment, satisfied.
Bringing Medusa Home
On the cusp of thirteen, I just craned my neck up to the buzz of airplanes flapping their red banners for Shrimp Dinners and Cocktail Specials. I wondered why I felt so strangely alive at the beach. And as much as I felt connected, alienated.
Not from my bright-eyed laughing friend, who far from sending me into exile, invited me to her house for sleepovers and vacations with her family. She would soon become a frequent visitor at my step-dad’s beach house at the Jersey shore where we would bask in late night conversations about secret crushes, school and religion, too. In time, I went to her family’s Catholic Church and I remember she would offer me a friendly smile as I struggled with exactly what to do (or not do) with my hands upon the recitation of certain verse.
There would be more churches, too. A few years later, in my quest to belong and understand, my stepbrother (exactly my age) and I briefly became born-again Christians. We passed bible tracts back and forth and passionately memorized verses, much to the concern of our parents. I must say, I respected the stories of turned cheeks, the profound emphasis on kindness in many parables of the New Testament. But what I loved most was what I experienced as the tender force of devotion itself, the space between my ribs so warm and mysteriously full.
That is, until alienation returned. A mandatory backseat for girls? No doubt allowed in my heart? Forever and ever? Because, as scary and lonely as “doubts” and “in-betweens” sometimes felt inside of my stomach, I sure didn’t want to live without them. My step-brother and I stopped going to the Evangelical church, and my parents were relieved.
As I grew older, around my junior year of college, I began to find a different kind of solace in the very place I had almost disowned as a seventh/eighth grader—classrooms, writing, books—where I could pour both passion and doubt. Of course, that was an important beginning of a new search, with its own vicisitudes and discoveries.
Personal affirmation would have to wait until decades later. I remember one epiphany in the midst of a weekend e-mail poetry exchange with a cherished friend.
“Writers, readers, poets, artists. We are all born seekers,” she wrote with a matter-of-factness that shocked and soothed me.
I smiled and leaned back in my chair. What I wouldn’t have done to reassure my adolescent self (and all the other adolescents hiding their sacred scrolls)?
It’s true. There might not be a couch for me. But, there is a wide deep ocean.
In 2006, Kimberly Nagy founded Wild River Review with Joy E. Stocke; and in 2009, they founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC. With more than twenty years in the field of publishing, Nagy specializes in market outreach and digital media strategies as well as crafting timeless articles and interviews. She edits many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
Kimberly Nagy is a poet, professional writer, and dedicated reader who has interviewed a number of leading thinkers, including Academy-Award winning filmmaker, Pamela Tanner Boll, MacArthur Genius Award-winning Edwidge Danticat, historian James McPherson, playwright Emily Mann, biologist and novelist, Sunetra Gupta and philosopher Alain de Botton.
Nagy is an author, editor and professional storyteller. She received her BA in history at Rider University where she was influenced by professors who stressed works of literature alongside dates and historical facts–as well as the importance of including the perspectives of women and minorities in the historical record. During a period in which she fell in love with writing and research, Nagy wrote an award-winning paper about the suppression of free speech during World War I, and which featured early 20th century feminist and civil rights leader, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
Nagy continued her graduate studies at University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she studied with Dr. Karen Kupperman, an expert in early contact between Native Americans and the first European settlers. Nagy wrote her Masters thesis, focusing on the work of the first woman to be accepted into the Connecticut Historical Society as well as literary descriptions of Native Americans in Connecticut during the 19th century. Nagy has extensive background and interest in anthropological, oral history and cultural research.
After graduate school, Nagy applied her academic expertise to a career in publishing, in which she worked for two of the world’s foremost publishers—Princeton University Press and W.W. Norton—as well as at Thomson, Institutional Investor Magazine, Routledge UK, and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
Kimberly Nagy in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
ARTS – FILM REVIEWS
ARTS – MUSIC
ARTS – PHOTOGRAPHY
The Triple Goddess Trials: Fire in the Head: Brigit’s Mysterious Spark
The Triple Goddess Trials: Introduction
The Triple Goddess Trials – Meeting Virginia Woolf at the Strand
The Triple Goddess Trials: Me and Medusa
The Triple Goddess Trials: Aphrodite and the Lightbulb Factory
The Triple Goddess Trials: Goddess of Milk and Honey
The Triple Goddess Trials: Kali’s Ancient Love Song
ASHLEY – Renee Ashley: A Voice Answering a Voice
BELLI – Giocanda Belli – The Page is My Home
BOLL – Pamela Tanner Boll: Dangerous Women: An Interview with Academy Award Winner Pamela Tanner Boll
DANTICAT – Create Dangerously- A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
CHARBONNEAU – A Cruise Along the Inside Track: With Le Mobile’s Sound Recording Legend Guy Charbonneau
de BOTTON – The Art of Connection: A Conversation with Alain de Botton
GUPTA – Suneptra Gupta – The Elements of Style: The Novelist and Biologist Discusses Metaphor and Science
HANDAL – Nathalie Handal – Love and Strange Horses
HOLT – Rush Holt: An Interview with Rush Holt
KHWAJA – Waqas Khwaja: What a Difference a Word Makes
MAURO: New World Monkeys: An Interview with Nancy Mauro
MOSS – Practical Mystic–Robert Moss: On Book Families, Jung and How Dreams Can Save Your Soul
OGLINE – BEN FRANKLIN.COM: Author & Illustrator Tim Ogline explains why Ben Franklin would be a technology evangelist today
OLSEN – Greg Olsen – Reaching for the Stars: Scientist, Entrepreneur and Space Traveler
PALYA – Beata Palya – The Secret World of Songs
SCHIMMEL – Moonlight Science: A Conversation with Molecular Biologist and Entrepreneur, Paul Schimmel
SHORS – Journey into the Male & Female Brain: An Interview with Tracey Shors
von MOLTKE and SIMMS – Dorothy von Moltke and Cliff Simms: Why Independent Bookstores Matter, Part I
WARD – On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part One, and
On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part Two
WILKES – Labor of Love: An Interview With Architect Kevin Wilkes
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library at 100: From the Stacks to the Streets
Paul Holdengraber: The Afterlife of Conversation
That Email Changed My Life: Rolex Arts Initiative. Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Tracy K. Smith Celebrates Rolex Arts Initiative
First Editions / Second Thoughts — Defending Writers: PEN and Christie’s Raise One Million Dollars to Support Freedom of Expression
ON AFRICA: May 4 to May 10 — Behind the Scenes with Director Jakab Orsos: Co-curated by Award-Winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Page is My Home: Giaconda Belli – Nicaraguan Poet, Writer and Public Intellectual
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
The Power of Conversation: David Grossman and Nadine Gordimer – The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture
NEW FROM WILD RIVER BOOKS – Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library
Wild River Books Announces the Stoutsburg Cemetery Project: The Untold Stories of an African American Burial Ground in New Jersey
Wild River Books: Surprise Encounters by Scott McVay
Wild River Review and Minerva’s Bed & Breakfast Presents – “BITTER” Writing in a Weekend: How to Write About the Things We Can’t Change
ALLEN – Quarks, Parks, and Science in Everyday Life: Filmmaker Chris Allen’s Documentary Where Art Meets Science in a Vacant Lot
MANN – Boundless Theater: An Interview with Emily Mann
Keeping Time: A Conversation with Historian James McPherson