varium et mutabile, semper femina

 

This is a repost of the introduction to my previous blog, which I started in April this year, and can be found here.

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Varium et mutabile, semper femina is a quotation taken from Book 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid. It roughly translates to “fickle and ever-changing is woman.” In the context of the poem, it is meant by Mercury (who is referring to Dido here) as an insult, designed to prod Aeneas into abandoning her on the island of Carthage as quickly as possible because goodness knows what she might do with her volatile woman brain! (As it happens, she does pile up their marriage bed and all his clothes, set them on fire, and stab herself through the chest with a sword, lying dead as the smoke from the flames curls up into the sky for Aeneas to anxiously watch as equally heartbroken he sails away to fulfil his destiny of founding Rome. This is tragic, and deeply upsetting for Aeneas and the reader, but it is also a beautiful, cathartic, piece of art, that entails Dido expressing her grief in a way that symbolises its depth.)

I fell in love with Classics when I fell in love with Aeneid 4, during a Year 13 Latin class in which we were reading this very part of the poem as a group. I remember this quote well because it sums up a male perspective on women that we see a lot: “Oh women, they’re so unstable! Always crying! Too volatile, in fact, to be given political or social responsibility.” It is a male impulse that lies behind every time a man has told me to “calm down” or “not to get so worked up all the time.” This always lighted an anger in me that I found hard to understand; was what they were saying really that wrong?

My sister was told by her first boyfriend (poor guy tbh I hope he never reads this) that sometimes she “emotionally overreacted to things.” She broke up with him quite soon after that. Again, it has taken me a while to understand why this caused my 17-year-old self such anger and an exceptionally fiery, defensive compassion for her at the time, but I think now I do. It is because when someone tells you to “calm down”, they are effectively saying that your emotional response is disproportionate to whatever has happened – that is, ultimately, that your mind and body are not working properly. That’s why it entails such an affront.

Female creativity, and female sexuality, have been repressed from being publicly expressed for thousands of years. That is not to say they have not always crept out in our personal lives – volumes of notebooks, hummed songs, the way we dress (everything is art if you think about it) and I am happy to observe that there have been thousands of women who have been able to wield political power and have a public outlet for their creativity. But in general, our instinctively more empathetic tendencies have meant that we have often felt solely responsible for and good at childcare, which involves absolutely endless time, love and energy, limiting the time we have to explore and express ourselves. It is incredible now that we have so many female artists in the Western mainstream media that weren’t there in such numbers before: actresses, poets, singers, dancers, visual artists, filmmakers, the list of artistic media goes on. In my opinion, the fact that, generally speaking, our sexuality is less constrained and more freely expressed has a direct relationship with the fact that worldwide our partners, brothers and fathers are increasingly seeing our public expressions of creativity as something to celebrate rather than something to police.

In myself, I have after various experiments with hormonal contraception (which unfortunately I am too sensitive to use for now; I have recently opted for the copper coil, which has been a dream) noticed the relationship between my menstrual cycle and my creativity. I feel most creative when I’m at the peak of fertility (my body literally yearning to make things) and most depressive in the two days before the catharsis of my period. Then the cycle begins again.

With this blog – entitled varium et mutabile, semper femina, an insult which I am choosing to reclaim as something that points up what exactly what I think makes women valuable and unique – I intend to contribute my thoughts on whatever I feel is important. It is likely to be mental health related for now, as that is where my energy is at the moment, but I place no constraints on its evolution: hopefully, it will be whatever it wants to be. I will also share pieces of art that I value; poems, books, paintings, plays, in case anyone else likes them too. Thanks for reading.

On music as therapy

Dear readers,

I have just come across a lot of kind messages about my blog (especially the one about social media and self esteem) that I didn’t know I had received until about five minutes ago. Thanks all for your kind words, I appreciate positive feedback hugely, as I don’t particularly expect people to read my stuff! This is a repost of a piece of writing I wrote in April but given recent events I think music is more important than ever. Love, A x

 

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I did not have a huge variety of music played in my house when I was growing up. It was mostly classical: my father is a talented pianist and has been playing ever since I can remember, he himself falling in love with Chopin and Beethoven at a young age. I used to take the piss out of him for listening to recordings of HIS OWN piano playing in the car, but now I totally understand that impulse; how lovely to listen to recordings of your own take on somebody else’s beloved work of art, a moment otherwise exclusively irretrievable through memory, something that fades over time?

 

I enjoyed classical music as a child, but the first time I remember feeling profoundly moved was when I listened to Dido’s album No Angel. I was five or six; Dido worked in my father’s office so my mum said that it was only fair we give her album a listen. I listened to that album, and Life for Rent, into my early teens; and even now for me they capture an innocent longing. I had the dimmest sense of what love and heartbreak were, but even then, my heart swelled with emotion at certain lyrics. These lyrics from her song Life for Rent were the ones I sang to myself most often when I was little:

 

I haven’t ever really found a place that I call home

I never stick around quite long enough to make it

I apologize once again I’m not in love

But it’s not as if I mind

that your heart ain’t exactly breaking

 

It’s just a thought, only a thought

 

But if my life is for rent and I don’t learn to buy

Well I deserve nothing more than I get

Cos nothing I have is truly mine

 

Looking back, It figures that as a child I sought this freedom, this independence: yes mum and dad were always right, and I shouldn’t cross roads without them or eat tooooo much cake, but the longing for personal autonomy is something that I feel is natural to us even at a young age. Thence Dido.

 

But possibly the most important musical epiphany I had was this one. I was in the car, driving up and down some hills in the Brecon Beacons with my mum and my dad and my sister, listening through my headphones to Bulletproof Heart. I felt the warmth of elation in my veins as I listened to the lyrics:

 

Gravity

Don’t mean too much to me

I’m who I’ve got to be

These pigs are after me, after you

Run away, like it was yesterday

And we could run away, if we could run away

Run away from here

I was 14. There was nothing in my life that I had a particular desire to flee from. Or was there?

 

I didn’t think about anything apart from My Chemical Romance for the entirety of the next two years. I wasn’t really interested in starting relationships with the young boys growing into men around me. I didn’t think deeply about my appearance, about what people thought of me, about sex, which seemed like a hazy but exciting promise waiting for me in my latter teenage years. Other musicians entranced me at this time, sure. The purity and honesty of Taylor Swift’s voice; Paramore, Green Day, Beyonce, Shakira, Eminem. But they were nothing on this band, who I felt I knew as deeply if not more deeply than the people around me.

 

Things changed for me a little bit when I managed to get my heart broken twice at sixteen when I had finished my GCSE’s and I spending the summer with the friends from school who I had had for five years. Yes it hurt, like fuck. I’m not gonna pretend there wasn’t a lot of crying. I’m not gonna pretend I didn’t focus on all of the things I thought were wrong with my mind and with my body for the next five years and, on some level, blame the failures of every romance and relationship I embarked on upon them. There was a lot of loss, that summer, and in the next two years. But during that time, and for years to come, the following lyrics from My Chemical Romance’s 2007 song Cancer constituted the catharsis I needed:

 

Turn away

If you could get me a drink of water

Cause my lips are chapped and faded

Call my Aunt Marie

Help her gather up my things and bury me

With all my favourite colours,

My sisters and my brothers still

I will not kiss you

Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you

 

The you here was at once my beloved school, myself, every one of my closest girlfriends, and the boy who had broken my heart in the knowledge that I would be moving to another school, so he would not have to face public scrutiny for whatever he did. He was involved with someone else at the time. Looking back, he knew me to an exceptionally superficial degree, and I him. I hadn’t given any of my precious self away, or received any of his, so the healing has taken a while but I got over it fairly quickly.

 

I remember thinking, mere hours after having my heart broken, listening to music alone, that nothing could truly harm me if I always had my music to soothe me and express the anger and hurt I felt in a nonviolent way. Yes I was angry. But I had no blueprint for the expression of anger that could be damaging to other people; it bled out safely through my headphones, when I was alone, or dancing around in my friends, or at the top of the 210 on the way up to the places where I spent my teenage years.

 

My Chemical Romance broke up on March 23rd, 2013. I cried solidly for six hours. I’d loved every song on every one of their four albums and the knowledge that the people I felt so close to had decided that they needed not to make music anymore broke my heart more deeply than any breakup I’d had up until that point. I still think of that awful rainy day as the end of my childhood.

 

But somewhere I understood. If they no longer wanted to make music as a group, it didn’t feel true to them, they had every right to withdraw, every right to end that artistic union. That was special about MCR was that when you listen to the music you can feel how deeply they have all been in pain and the strength with which they have fought and are fighting that, and learn something yourself about the sheer strength you get through suffering.

 

As I get older, I feel more and more resistant to the term ‘pop music.’ Pop – short for popular – comes from the Latin populus, meaning simply ‘the people’, as opposed to the non-elite. At its root meaning, all it means is the music of the people. Something to embrace, rather than something to look down upon. I think the difference between, say, the supposedly ‘popular’ Taylor Swift’s earliest albums and MCR is simply the nuance of emotion.

 

We hear millions of lovesongs and breakup songs. Yeah okay, love is painful and hard and you’re always afraid of losing it. I have needed these songs very badly in my time. But I have also needed to feel anger, sadness, envy, resentment, joy, fear, in all their different and infinite combinations, and that’s what MCR gave me, and that’s what I take from Frank Turner, Lana Del Rey, Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, Bon Iver, Jeff Buckley, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Vivaldi, Chopin, Debussy and even the genuinely glorious and life affirming piece of art that is the La La Land soundtrack. Part of me is always gently pissed off when someone comments on my musical choices with anything but absolute respect. I think it’s clear why. Own what you love. My Chemical Romance was never cool. That’s what made it so cool.