Booooooo to Unrealistic Expectations

Societal expectations are often contradicting; especially in the sense of expressing individuality, yet being expected to conform to a societal standard of ‘normality.’ In Susan Stinson’s novel, “Martha Moody,” there is a specific moment that articulates this contradiction when Amanda is harshly criticized for her appearance.

““Have you lost all Christian decency?” I shrugged and kept walking, but my face burned… She turned her horse to look after me. “We pray for you.” I stopped and breathed the dust I’d kicked up, then turned to face her. I thought I was going to thank her with quiet sarcasm, I thought I was just tucking the long tail of John’s shirt, but my hands had grown bolder since I had been on my own, and they pulled the shirt tails out of my waistband and lifted them to show Theda my white belly where in the public of the road. Theda looked at me impassively, as if she were made of salt… “You’re a lunatic,” then (Theda) headed into town. I didn’t bother to tuck in my shirt, but let if flap the whole way home” (126-127).

         In this passage, Theda is acting out the role of society by criticizing Amanda for expressing herself simply because the way of expression is not ‘decent’ or ladylike. Not to mention the subtle stab at Amanda’s large body. This is problematic because when people are told to be true to themselves, it appears to only be acceptable when a person’s true self is suitable to unrealistic expectations; in this case, having a skinny body. A parallel example is the expectation of being a heterosexual individual. The contradiction is found when a non-heterosexual individual is told (by society, family, friends, etc.) to be themselves, yet since society is so heteronormative, anybody outside of that box is at a disadvantage.

I felt very connected to this theme because I’ve been struggling with figuring out how I’m supposed to express myself freely, while also feeling like I have to fit into the heteronormative stereotype. I identify as queer, and when I first told my mom, she seemed accepting and nonjudgmental. However, in a later conversation that I had with her, she said, “you probably shouldn’t be telling everyone” and “you’ll have to decide at some point how you want to be perceived” and “you’ll have to choose what you want your family to look like and who you want to marry.” These comments made me feel like I should hide my true self, and instead conform to an expectation that is not meant for me. She had always taught me that it doesn’t matter what other people think and that I should always be true myself, yet when my true self was different from her expectation (and society’s for that matter), that message disappeared in an instant. She claimed that she was saying these things because she didn’t want me to get hurt, possibly similar to how Theda said that she prays for Amanda; in a way that indirectly suggests that I change and conform. However, I have absolutely no need to change myself in order to cater to an expectation that I will never fit into. I will continue to express my true self throughout my life. And like Amanda, I will flaunt my authentic self in front of those who discourage me and carry on holding my head up high.

Finding Balance

Difficult situations cause varying responses among individuals. I am sure that this is not new information, but I think that it is an important concept to remember. It is important to keep this in mind especially when analyzing your own responses to a difficult situation. Mala, formerly called PohPoh, seems to have a troublesome time finding this balance when she is reflecting upon the violence she had endured from her father, Chandin. Tyler narrates Mala’s difficulty by saying, “Pohpoh worked on finding that perfect balance between being rigidly alert and dangerously relaxed” (Mootoo page 143). This description of how Mala feels provides a great articulation of the two polar ends of the balance that ignite frustration and hardship. This sentence acted as a lens to my own traumatic relationship as I immediately related to Mala’s feeling of imbalance. Specifically, it pointed out the influence of society to normalize and lessen the severity of the situation and the cry for help in my own brain saying that something was wrong.

This conflict between self and society made it extremely difficult for me to validate the emotions that was feeling throughout the time when I began to realize how bad my experience was. I constantly had a battle between thinking that I was overreacting, since society taught me that “that’s just how relationships are”, and internally freaking out because I knew what happened hurt me physically and continued to hurt me mentally. The main source of my frustration, anger, and hurt was that I couldn’t but put labels on what had happened for a long time. More accurately, I was afraid to admit to myself how bad things were. However, once I allowed myself to assign labels to my experiences, I was able to start moving forward with coming to terms with reality. Unfortunately, that didn’t make these terms any less scary; gaslighting, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, sexual assault, and rape are the words that kept circling around my head as I struggled to truly accept them as true.

Even though the issue of imbalance came into play again, as I tried to nurture my mind’s pain and also appear unfazed for society, I was finally able to determine what could make me feel balanced. I was reminded that, despite what society says you’re supposed to feel that every feeling is valid. Every person processes and heals from an experience differently. Balance won’t form when you’re trying to pick one extreme or another; so instead of being “rigidly alert” or “dangerously relaxed,” perhaps it is necessary to acknowledge and validate your feelings first, which will then allow you to find peace with your emotions.

Is Reality Too Loud?

In “The Autobiography of Red,” Anne Carson carefully articulates her words in order to question new perspectives on common ideas, through the main character, Geryon. More specifically, the use of single sentences at the beginning of each section encourages the reader to connect the remainder of the section to the proposed idea in the opening sentence. One sentence that particularly stands out is when Carson writes, “Reality is a sound; you have to tune in to it not just keep yelling,” (page 60). Although this sentence could be interpreted quite literally and straightforward, I think that it relays a deeper message. I think this sentence is a parallel to how Geryon feels about his reality. In particular, how he does not want to tune in to his reality.

Throughout the text, there are several instances where Geryon expresses how he feels separated from his peers. His childhood abuse, his way of describing the world around him through his photographs, his idea of himself as a red monster with wings, and his queerness all contribute to this described feeling of separation. Whenever Geryon describes his feelings of being on the outside, I kept assimilating them with the “sound” of reality. Particularly, how his reality sounded loud and overwhelming. This would explain why Geryon has avoided being in complete touch with reality and why he seems okay with being in his own world. It seems like he doesn’t want to conform to the norms that everyone around him seemed to follow. Who can blame him for not wanting to be a part of a reality that feels so excluding?

It is important to recognize how empowering Geryon’s choice is, given that not many people are able to find peace with their reality. Even though Geryon knows that he doesn’t fit into society’s expectation box, he still finds ways to make sense of the world around him. This is exactly what is empowering because it can seem impossible at times to not get sucked into the preset, unrealistic expectations for oneself, yet Geryon has found a way to avoid it. Why would anyone want to tune into an unforgiving reality?

Temporary Loss

     Loss is something that no one wants to experience, but somehow everyone inevitably encounters it in one shape or form. It wouldn’t be as troublesome if there were an end-all solution, but the problem is that there is no clear way to deal with loss. In Jeanette Winterson’s novel, “Written on the Body,” the theme and experience of loss is consistently brought up. Even in different contexts, there is an underlying message that Winterson brings to light, which might not be all that obvious. To elaborate, loss may not be as permanent and devastating as the narrator makes it out to be. 

      The narrator has many points of self reflection and realization about loss, yet one in particular stands out. The focus point reads, “To lose someone you love is to alter your life forever. You don’t get over it because ‘it’ is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes.” (155). It is easy to assume that this passage is about the long-lasting effect of loss. However, based off of the previous stories about the narrator’s past lovers, this described loss seems to be just another one in the books. This assumption is possible because when looking at how the narrator grieved the ones she had loved and lost, the story remained the same; they fell in love, the relationship failed, they lost each other, and they grieved. Each time, the narrator got over the additive pain and eventually moved on, only to find a seemingly greater love and ultimately a greater loss; possibly adding to the so-called “gap” left behind from past lovers. And each time a loss is explained, there seems to be so many possibilities to avoid it from happening, yet the narrator’s decisions inevitably result in greater loss. This recurrence questions if the pain of loss is actually unavoidable or if it was the narrator’s subconscious decision to avoid potential pain? 

      Even though the narrator’s losses could’ve been avoided, they still happened and the narrator still buried the emotions and moved on every time, proving the point that “the pain stops.” Perhaps each time the pain stops, it allows there to be an opening for someone new, someone like Louise. And even though the narrator demonstrated a strong bond with Louise, it ended with loss, and was the biggest loss of them all. However, bringing back the proposed question, if the narrator managed to overcome the previous losses, why is Louise the one that is seemingly the change of pattern? Considering the significant contradiction between the pain of loss with left behind feelings of love, versus moving on, the narrator’s seemingly unbearable feelings resulting from losing Louise are only temporary and the pain will eventually stop; allowing the cycle of love, loss, and recovery to restart.