To the professor who changed my life…

This is a bit different than a normal blog post, less academic and more reflective.

“Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process. … In my classrooms, I do not expect students to take any risks that I would not take, to share in any way that I would not share.”

It’s Spring semester of 2022. There’s an oppressive stillness in the air. The news had come last night, that Roe v Wade is likely to be overturned. I didn’t know how to get out of bed, I didn’t know how to take in the information. It was an expected turn of events, but even as a political scientist, I felt in shock. I couldn’t process it.

I go to my class on autopilot. It’s class of 20 women and a professor who identifies as a woman. None of us say anything. How do we process a loss like this? My professor begins the class, opening up space to talk about the news. No one speaks. I’m not sure if there’s anything to say.

Then, my professor begins to cry. I’ve been in a lot of classrooms—I even got kicked out once for crying while watching Trump being inaugurated. But I’ve never had a professor cry in front of a class before. It was a moment of vulnerability, one that I think about a lot when I try to imagine the type of professor I want to be.

bell hooks’ words reminded me of this moment and the empowerment I felt as a woman in that moment. I felt seen and heard, an expression of emotion that I was feeling but couldn’t put into words. I saw in those moments what bell hooks means by ‘the classroom is a place where teachers grow’ – to share an emotion with a class is an act of strength empowering not only the professor, but those who attended class that day.

None of the students said anything, but the moment bridged the divide between teacher and student—humanizing both of us in our collective pain. bell hooks is right in that a teacher must be willing to take risks that she expects of her students and I felt that that day. As a classroom, that vulnerability was acknowledged and cherished.

The engaged pedagogy that bell hooks described is a way to create a classroom that moves both of us (teacher and student) towards liberation, learning from each other, and in some cases, leaning on each other for support. I didn’t know a name for it until reading this excerpt, but I have a feeling that as I get my own classroom, bell hooks words will not leave me and that moment last spring will not leave me either.

Color Theory as told by Geryon

The concept of color theory can be explained as the “rules” regarding how certain colors work together and how these colors communicate with the viewer. Throughout Autobiography of Red, different colors are brought up time and time again. The idea of color that is brought up so many times is representative of what the colors themselves mean and what it means for something to be red. Geryon describes himself throughout the book as “a red-winged monster”. In painting the color red often symbolizes anger and violence and is also representative of blood. Anger and violence are present less prominent in this story than one would expect, particularly because Geryon refers to himself as the red-winged monster. The word monster conjures up an image of something large, frightening, and inhuman.  For being a red-winged monster, Geryon does not ever get too aggressive or out of sorts. This is where the idea concept of the volcano comes in. The volcano in this story is active but what I see is Geryon as the active volcano. All of the “red” (anger etc.)  that he keeps inside himself is comparable to lava. The volcano has the potential to explode at any minute and release all of the red inside of it. Both Geryon and the volcano have the potential to explode but neither ever truly does at any point in the story. In this story the use of color is also representative of overall control, but the control and power that Geryon actually holds over his own life. Every person gets to decide where on the canvas to put the colors and which colors to use, everyone gets to decide how their life goes. You can either let the colors paint the picture for you or you can grab the brush and paint your own life. Life is a series of different colors and mixes with limitless combinations.

Retellings of the Greek Hero


Anne Carson’s novel in verse, Autobiography of Red, retells a Greek myth about a young red monster with wings named Geryon, whose story is known because it ended with famed hero Herakles (or Hercules in Roman) killing him and his dog. It does so in verse, much like the original myth, but it puts Geryon’s narrative in modern times, in America (not said directly but widely assumed), Argentina, and Peru. Reading about Herakles (whom I strongly dislike) reminded me of another Greek hero whom I have incredibly mixed feelings towards—Achilles, star of the Trojan War. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is one of my all-time favorite books for many reasons, but especially because it portrays Achilles not as a perfect hero, but as a complex individual who could be violent and selfish as much as he was beloved and admired by those around him. While Herakles in Autobiography of Red is considerably more unlikeable, his depiction in other forms of media (such as the Disney movie Hercules) portray better sides of him. I thought it would be interesting to compare the portrayal of the two in recent retellings, as they are two of the most famous Greek heroes still talked about today. 

In both novels, Herakles and Achilles are depicted through the eyes of the men (or boys, as Geryon is fourteen) who love them. Even so, we understand that they are not perfect, as lovers or as men. Achilles is horribly selfish. He was born nearly invulnerable, and from a young age was told through prophecies that he would be the greatest warrior of his age. When the Trojan War began, it was told that the Greeks would never win the war without him. This also builds his arrogance. The selfishness comes in The Song of Achilles (I can’t speak too much to the original myth) when he is told he can either live out his days in peaceful anonymity (and have a full life with his lover Patroclus) but his name will be lost to history, or he will receive abundant glory and honor but die young (at Troy). Prioritizing glory more than the wishes of his mother, Thetis, and Patroclus, who do not want to see him dead, he chooses to fight in Troy even though it will cost him his future. This decision snowballs and throughout the years at Troy, his actions indirectly and sometimes directly condemn many people to die, including Patroclus. He is also a vicious and brutal warrior, similar to Herakles in his own myths. 

Where they differ, however, is that Achilles is not a cruel lover in the same way that Herakles is. He hurts Patroclus, inevitably, but he does understand him unlike anyone else, and truly loves him. In fact, he vows to be the first-ever hero who is happy and tells Patroclus it’ll be because of him. On the other end of the spectrum, Herakles kills Geryon in the original myth and mostly uses him for sex in Autobiography in Red. There’s never any understanding that Herakles has genuine feelings for Geryon aside from lust. Geryon seems to understand this too, saying, “Yellow! Yellow! Even in dreams he doesn’t know me at all!” (Carson 74). This is in response to Herakles recounting a dream with Geryon in it, where there was a lot of yellow, and Geryon only ever associates himself with the color red. Herakles also admits himself, “I guess I’m someone who will never be satisfied” (Carson 44). He is not with Geryon because he loves him—their relationship is merely physical, a placeholder until someone new comes along. We see this confirmed near the end of the novel when Herakles cheats on his new lover, Ancash, by having sex with Geryon. 

Herakles and Achilles both have incredible capacities to be violent, volatile, and cruel, but in retellings of their stories, Achilles is the one with at least some sense of compassion. He is shown as being able to care about people other than himself (mainly Patroclus and the people of his native island), but Herakles is never given any redeeming qualities in Carson’s novel. This may be, in part, because the popular retellings often depict Herakles (as Hercules) as a glittering, chivalrous, and incredibly masculine hero. Anne Carson pushes back on this narrative and portrays a more realistic characterization of a horny teenage boy/young man.

Geryon and His Captivity

In the novel Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, the main character Geryon is shown to be limited by the idea of captivity in his identity. I think that this stems from the difficulties he had in his childhood. His brother sexually assaulting him and his identity being different than those around him has limited him in how he sees himself.

Throughout the novel, the concept of “inside” connects to the mentions of captivity. After his brother assaults him for the first time he says, “He thought about the difference between outside and inside. Inside is mine, he thought” (Carson, 29). He then later says he writes about his “inside things” in his autobiography and says that he omits all “outside things. This connects to the concept of captivity because his inner thoughts are held captive in himself, he does not share them with any of the important people in his life. “Inside” are the parts that he can control and everything on the outside, his brother and Herakles’ treatment of him, are out of his hands. 

When doing graffiti with Herakles later, Herekles says “All your designs are about captivity, it depresses me” (Carson, 55). To me this would have been an opportunity for Geryon to talk to Herakles about his feelings, but he does not because of previous experiences with his brother. I think his brother telling him not to tell his mom about his assault has led to his feeling that he cannot tell anyone about his feelings.  Previously in the book, Geryon has also said that a cage is his favorite weapon when prompted by his brother. He has felt what a “cage” has done to him and thinks it is brutal enough to be a weapon. 

Another interesting moment regarding captivity was when Geryon was talking about seeing a dog with rabies. He says “When the owner stepped up and put a gun to the dog’s temple, Geryon walked away. Now leaning forward to peer out the little oblong window where icy cloudlight drilled his eyes he wished he had stayed to see it go free” (Carson, 78) This makes me think more about the attitude that Geryon has towards his own captivity. If he is thinking about death being a“freeing” experience, has he ever thought about that regarding himself and his own captivity?


Life Imitates Art

In Ruth Padel’s review of Anne Carson’s “Autobiography of Red,” Padel writes that “Carson is interested in Geryon’s survival through art” (“Seeing Red”). Survival through art is a constant theme throughout this novel, which follows its protagonist Geryon as he processes his life by constructing an unusual autobiography. Though Geryon’s autobiography is textually relayed through Carson’s poetry, within the story Geryon primarily uses photography and other visual mediums as forms of expression.  

Geryon begins to create his autobiography after being sexually abused by his brother, which occurs before he has learned to write. He turns to this autobiography as a means of processing trauma and relaying his story: “Inside is mine, he thought… In this work Geryon set down all inside things” (Carson 29). As the novel progresses, we see photography become a lifelong way for Geryon to capture memories and moments in time. He begins to see the world through his photographic lens even when his camera is not present; in one instance he “[memorizes] / the zebra so he could make / a photograph later. ‘Time Lapse’” (Carson 115). The use of the words “memorization” and “make” are unusual in the context of photography, since a photo is something that is taken, without need of being committed to memory beforehand (Carson 115). This unusual phrasing seems to suggest that Geryon views photography not just as literal snapshots of time, but also as a figurative method of creating and considering memories. He continues to take imaginary photos (as well as real photos) throughout the story, even attributing names to moments in time as if they are photographs. Through moments such as these, it becomes apparent that Geryon’s life and the medium he uses to process it have become almost interchangeable.  

This intersection of art and life comes to a head towards the end of the story. Chapter titles begin to be named after photos Geryon has taken, with each corresponding chapter detailing a specific moment in time that Geryon has captured through photography. These chapters reveal how inseparable Geryon’s life is from his art. While Geryon’s photography can be viewed as a form of memory, expression, and survival, he also casts it in a negative light by thinking “I am disappearing… / but the photographs were worth it” (Carson 135). Is he disappearing into the photographs, as his life becomes interchangeable with the autobiography he is crafting? Or is he losing himself to them for some other reason? While there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer, this complicates the already charged relationship between art, life, and survival that is presented in this novel.  

Myths Make it Fun

In Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan, both authors use Greek mythology as a tool to tell their stories. Riordan uses Greek mythology to normalize what society sees as other and creates a world where being neurodivergent makes you special and gives you the ability to be a hero. Carson uses a specific myth from Greek mythology to help her tell her story. Neither of these stories are set in ancient Greece, they both bring Greek mythology to the modern world.

Riordan makes kids who are neurodivergent the heroes in his books. By doing this, he removes the negative connotation that society puts on being neurodivergent. In his story, Percy and his half-blood friends have ADHD because the hyper focus and energy help them in battle, and they have dyslexia because their brains are wired to read ancient Greek. Framing the usually negatively thought-about aspects of being neurodivergent in a positive way creating a space where kids did not have to feel bad about having dyslexia or ADHD. Well, Riordan’s stories follow the stereotypical hero trop, they are not about a specific myth whereas Carson’s story inserts a specific myth into the story. Carson’s use of Greek mythology gives her story underlying connotations and hidden meanings. She names the main character Geryon, and his main love interest is Herakles. In the Greek myth, Herakles kills Geryon as one of his tasks. Although the story does not specifically follow this myth it does imply that Geryon and Herakles’ relationship might be toxic. This is shown to be true as their story plays out.

Although Riordan and Carson do not use Greek mythology in the same way, they both use it to explain parts of their stories. Riordan uses it to explain, in a positive way, ADHD and dyslexia. Carson uses it to express Geryon and Herakles’ toxic relationship. Myths can be used to explain the unknown, I think both Riordan and Carson use mythology to explain unknowns in their stories.


Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Disney Hyperion Books, 2006.

Geryon’s Identity Exploration: Links Between Queerness and Monstrosity

So what’s it like—Ancash stopped. He began again. So what’s it like fucking him now?

Degrading, said Geryon

without pause and saw Ancash recoil from the word.

I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that,

said Geryon but Ancash was gone across the garden. at the door he turned.



There is one thing I want from you.

Tell me.

Want to see you use those wings.” (Carson 144).


This section of chapter 45, titled “Photographs: Like and Not Like”, shows Ancash slapping and then confronting Geryon about his few sexual encounters with Herakles since reuniting in Argentina. Ancash is Herakles’ new boyfriend, and so, he is acting out in jealousy. The defensive, bitter tone that Ancash begins the dialogue with drops once Geryon replies “degrading” to Ancash’s question: So what’s it like fucking him now? (Carson 144). From both their shared and individual experiences with Herakles, Ancash realizes his jealousy is misplaced. Geryon is not the problem, but Herakles is because of his oversexual, immature personality. Herakles does not realize the effects of his actions on others, or he could simply not care. Nevertheless, he does not stop to consider Geryon’s or Ancash’s perspective on sex-whether it is commitive or casual. This is why when Geryon and Herakles start having sex Herakles says “what’s wrong? Jesus I hate it when you cry, What is it?” and, as a result, Geryon does not verbalize his thoughts about falling out of love with Herakles (Carson 141).


Also in this moment, Ancash makes space for Geryon’s monster identity to “soar.” By this, I mean explore his identity, which is set up earlier when Ancash tells Geryon the lore of volcanoes and eyewitnesses, and then reclaim it. When Geryon removed his coat before bed, Ancash physically saw his monstrosity—his wings—but now in this particular section of dialogue he sees Geryon as his own self in a way that Herakles could not. Ancash even goes further to empower and challenge Geryon to reveal a part of himself that he has worked hard to keep hidden. Ancash wants “to see you [Geryon] use those wings.” (Carson 144). This narrative arc of Geryon’s self-realization and Ancash’s friendship to him highlights the ways in which experiences of queer identity and monstrosity are linked and overlapped.


Gender is and is not

“Genders can be neither true or false, neither real nor apparent, neither original nor derived. As credible bearers of those attributes, however, genders can also be rendered thoroughly and radically incredible” — Judith Butler

This statement resonates with me for several reasons. I really like how Butler states that “genders can be neither true or false” (Butler, 141). I like this statement because they are saying how gender identify cannot be validated in some instances and not in others. They are simply saying that gender just is. I also really like how the first statement is worded. The first sentence sets up what gender is and what it is not. It sets up the parameters for gender. However, the main idea of this sentence is to show that gender cannot be define or put into a box. It just is.

The second statement is clarifying. The main idea is to stat that while gender cannot be defined into specifics, it can be “rendered thoroughly” (Butler, 141). My favorite part of this statement is how Butler states that gender is “radically incredible” (Butler, 141). It is fitting that these two statements end the section of “Subversive Bodily Acts”. I believe that Butler’s main idea in this passage is that gendered acts are performative and are used to signal “inner politics of the body” (Butler, 141). This idea is summed up beautifully by Butler when they state, “In other words, acts and gestures, articulated and enacted desires create the illusion of an interior and organizing gender core, an illusion discursively maintained for the purposes of the regulation of sexuality within the obligatory frame of reproductive heterosexuality” (Butler, 136).

The idea that there is no “gender core” and that expression of gender through the “surface of the body” is performative was groundbreaking for me (Butler, 136). My experience on this earth has been being defined as a woman. I wear feminine clothing and I overall purposefully dress specifically for the male gaze. Yes, I am that girl who will probably have a predictable life in the suburbs with 2.5 kids. Which to most people in this class will sound anti everything we have talked about the entire semester. It is the embodiment of a heteronormative lifestyle (I am not saying that this is a good thing by any means). I write these statements to not push forward the agenda of making this lifestyle seem like the only right one (It is far from it). I write these statements to communicate that what Butler has stated about how “the gendered body is performative” has made me rethink how I present myself to the world (Butler, 136). To be honest, I am frustrated with the fact that I have been brought up with the idea that my insides are gendered and that my outsides should reflect what is on the inside. I wonder what my life would look like if I presented myself to the world as a human rather than a future wife and mother. Anyways, back to Butler. Gender is and is not a lot of things. Gender just is.

Free as a Bird

As it is a recurring motif in both Autobiography of Red and Cereus Blooms at Night, I wanted to explore the significance of flight in relation to dehumanization and eventual liberation within the stories of Geryon and Mala Ramchandin. Both characters are a sort of social outcast, but the way in which they are “othered” by society has contrasting manifestations and results, representing the different ways in which those that live outside the norms of society internalize and embrace their queerness.

Mala is ostracized by the town of Paradise as a result of a combination of factors, including the childhood abuse she suffered from her father, her social class and race, and her perceived insanity. Along with this isolation, the townspeople enforce Mala’s separation from humanity by tormenting her and referring to her as “The Bird.” This dehumanization has two sides, since it is both impressed upon Mala as a social punishment, yet she also embraces it as a means of escape. Throughout the story, many allusions are made to birds in relation to Mala, such as when she is described as “[l]ike a crane pondering flight” (Mootoo 147). She even develops the skill of imitating any birdcall she hears. Despite all these avian comparisons, Mala remains physically human and incapable of flight.

In stark contrast to Mala’s predicament, Geryon has wings, and yet his own self-hatred keeps him from using them. In this way, Geryon’s dehumanization is entirely internal. Though he is described as a red-winged monster, for most of the story it is unclear if this is actually his true appearance. His self-disgust is revealed by the fact that he keeps his wings concealed and strapped down, as displayed in the section entitled “Pair:” “His wings were struggling. They tore against each other on his shoulders / like the little mindless red animals they were. / With a piece of wooden plank he’d found in the basement Geryon made a back brace / and lashed the wings tight” (Carson 53). The likening of his wings to “animals” contributes to Geryon’s self-dehumanization, and it also implies his attempt to separate this monstrosity from his own body. In this particular passage, Geryon’s wings are illustrated as their own entities, since they are described as “struggling” and “[tearing] against each other” as if they are beyond his control. Rather than embracing his nature, Geryon attempts to hide and restrain the parts of himself he views as monstrous.

This changes, at last, in the conclusion of the story, specifically after Geryon’s relationship with Ancash provides a new perspective on his nature. After Ancash tells Geryon of the mythology of the Yazcamac, Geryon begins to dissolve his own self-loathing. The final step in his liberation is achieved in the section entitled “Photographs: #1748,” in which he takes flight at last: “bolts of wind like slaps of wood and the bitter red drumming of wing muscle on air – / he flicks Record. / This is for Ancash, he calls to the earth diminishing below. This is a memory of our / beauty” (Carson 145). Most significant in this passage is Geryon’s mention of “beauty,” a term which he has never used to describe himself before. His flight is both a means of physical freedom, since he is literally leaving the earth as well as people like Herakles who have only contributed to his self-hatred, but it is also a symbol of mental liberation as he is finally embracing the parts of himself which he had previously rejected as monstrous.

Though Mala remains wingless throughout the novel, there is a surprisingly similar passage toward the end of her story in which she achieves a comparable freedom through her imagined “rescue” of her younger self, Pohpoh. She tells Pohpoh, “I, Mala Ramchandin, will set you, Pohpoh Ramchandin, free, free, free, like a bird!” (Mootoo 173), once again invoking the bird motif. This returns in the final moment of the section: “She practiced making perfect, broad circles, like a frigate bird splayed out across the sky in an elegant V. Down below, her island was soon lost among others, all as shapeless as specks of dust adrift on a vast turquoise sea” (Mootoo 186). Finally, the symbol of the bird finds use as Mala imagines her abused, childhood self at last flying to freedom. Though Mala’s physical form remains on the island, she achieves an emotional, psychological liberation from the traumas of her past.

Works Cited:

Carson, Anne. Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse. Vintage Books, 1998.

Mootoo, Shani. Cereus Blooms at Night. Grove Press, 1996.

Geryon: A Little Red Monster in a Cage

I want to connect two passages where Geryon talks about a cage and a tank, relating the ideas of being trapped and being in captivity. In the first passage, Geryon responds to his brother’s question: “what’s your favorite weapon? Cage, said Geryon from behind his knees. / Cage? said his brother. / You idiot a cage isn’t a weapon. It has to do something to be a weapon. / Has to destroy the enemy” (Carson 33). Considering his brother’s insult and immediate dismissal of his response, it is no wonder Geryon feels trapped—in fact, he uses his knees as a physical barrier between himself and his brother. At first, I interpreted Geryon’s response, “cage,” to reflect how he feels trapped in his life, unable to escape his brother’s sexual and verbal abuse even in a space that is supposed to be safe (his own home). However, he was asked about his “favorite” weapon, which indicates that his response could be something he likes. For this reason, I wonder if he also sees the cage as a form of protection; as much as a cage keeps someone confined, it also keeps others from getting in. Maybe to him, the cage is a psychological space where he can escape his brother and aspects of his life that leave him feeling confused, hurt, or alone. What his brother misses, though, is that a cage does in fact “do something,” and it can “destroy the enemy.” It may not impose immediate physical violence like other weapons, but it works psychologically, causing someone to feel isolated and powerless. Moreover, confinement in a cage over an extended period would also be physically painful. So, for someone so young, Geryon picked an incredibly damaging weapon. Because Geryon has wings, the concept of a caged bird comes to mind as well. So even if the cage protects him on some level, it also confines him in a space he feels he does not belong—it grounds him so he cannot fly or escape.

In the second passage, the singer during the “Tango” chapter tells Geryon that beluga whales think about nothing when they are trapped in a tank: “But I look in their eyes and I see them thinking. / Nonsense. It is yourself you see—it’s guilt. / Guilt? Why would I be guilty about whales? Not my fault they’re in a tank. / Exactly. So why are you guilty—whose / tank are you in?” (Carson 103). Like with his brother, the singer immediately dismisses Geryon’s comment and tries to “correct” him, implying that Geryon must feel an affinity with the whales because he too feels trapped in a tank that he did not put himself in. While a tank is like a cage, I think the intentions behind them are different. Where a cage is often associated with punishment or confinement, a tank usually refers to some kind of display, or playing a role for someone/something else (e.g. whales in a tank for people to observe). So, Geryon at first sees his life as a cage that he built around himself (and events/people in his life likely participated in creating that cage more indirectly), but then Herakles’s influence places him in a tank over which he has no control. In a sense, he is forced into captivity, in more ways than one: the literal sense of being trapped, but also the emotional sense of being enchanted by or attached to Herakles. Either way, he is captivated by and expected to play the role of the unattached lover for Herakles.

Because we have been talking about perspective and partiality in class, I wonder if the cage and the tank are the same idea from different perspectives. Geryon feels a sense of agency as he navigates his life and his attachment to Herakles, but others see him as trapped in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner. That the singer labels Geryon’s feeling as “guilt” and not loneliness, or frustration at being misunderstood and denied agency, demonstrates that 1) Geryon may see himself as the problem, rather than Herakles leading him on or traumatic experiences impacting how he interacts with the world, and 2) others also see Geryon as the problem or the “other,” rather than recognizing their role in isolating him. Both, in turn, contribute to him seeing himself as a little red monster nobody understands. Moreover, because his perception of reality is real to him, it is thus real to the reader as well, as we experience the world through him. So, in a sense, he literally is our eyewitness, showing us the world from the perspective of the “other.”