Sandra Neily here. Thinking about curses, modern and ancient.
It turned out to be a motivating week to return to the Cassandra Curse as I worked on my next novel, returning to the narrator who lives that curse. Named Cassandra Patton Conover, she avoids her first name, calling herself Patton. It doesn’t really work to avoid her first name because she has a job where no one seems to listen anyway.
This passage from Deadly Trespass (my previous novel) explains the curse.
Millie hugged me. “Shannon’s party’s tomorrow night. Don’t bother cooking; I’ve got your apples and I’ll put your name on the applesauce.” Plump, chapped lips pressed together with disapproval. “What name do you want? The Cassandra name or the Patton name? I like the girl name. Wasn’t she a goddess? I survived seventh-grade mythology but that was before the last ice age.”
She tugged her apron over her squat frame.
“Cassandra was human,” I said, “just considered crazy because she was a seer.”
“We all have eyes, honey.” Millie said.
“No. She was a see-er, but maybe not a very successful one. Cassandra saw truth—saw the future. She rejected Apollo’s advances so he put a curse on her, made it so no one believed her prophecies.” I felt dry face lines crack into a smile. Across the ages, what did we have in common? “She warned the city of Troy not to bring a gigantic wooden horse inside its fortified walls,” I said. “No one believed her. After dark, Greek soldiers jumped out of the horse, opened the gates to the attacking army, and Troy was destroyed.”
“There you have it,” cried Millie as she reached up to tweak my cheek. “That’s you. Cassandra. Sees what’s going to happen, warns people, and they don’t listen. Mayhem and dismantling the world continues. Sounds like your old job. Good you ditched it,” she said.
I put two cookies in my mouth and chewed so my face would be busy. No one knew how much the Cassandra curse haunted my lobbying life, but I was pretty sure there wasn’t any way to talk about being ignored without sounding like a whiner. (excerpt, Deadly Trespass)
This week, despite the promise of an FBI investigation, it seems possible that Dr. Ford’s testimony about assault will be ignored in the race to fill a Supreme Court seat. It also seems possible that the pleas of hundreds of thousands of women who by now, have contacted their elected representative or gone public with their own traumas, will also be ignored.
People in power may bend their heads to simulate listening, but too often the women will not be heard.
Their warnings about where they might take their anger are also not heard. And they are sending out warnings. They are sending them with their hands, and bodies, and gatherings, and their open mouths.
I love this grim but energized painting of Cassandra by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys. The painting is silent but Cassandra is not. The energy of her hair and the wind and clearly her mouth are all about a grim but energized rage. Yes, there’s some crazy there. Well, why not?
I’ve added Damon Winter’s photographs from his New York Times photo essay, “Women Have a Message for Washington” because I think they capture a very modern Cassandra moment.
I especially like the first one because it is clearly a Cassandra moment: wide open mouth.
You decide. Is this a moment when we will defeat the Cassandra curse or will it follow us like some enduring Greek tragedy?
Cassandra painted by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys. Credit: University of Toronto and Internet Archive. http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/sandys/drawings/18.html