Moana: “We Know the Way”

I’ve been listening to the Moana soundtrack on heavy rotation lately. It gives me a connection to the film while I wait to go see it again. One song that I keep coming back to is this one, “We Know the Way.” Spoilers will come after.

Last night, I wrote about Moana and the ocean. This song appears at that crucial moment in the film when Moana learns that her ancestors were sea voyagers. The scene, which involves a cave in that epic sort of way would make Joseph Campbell proud. We can learn so much of ourselves when we go into caves, or at least that’s what the myths tell us. Moana goes into the cave at her grandmother’s advice, because Moana is trying to learn why the island is dying. She is instructed to bang the drum and listen to what the cave tells her. The cave sings “We Know the Way” to her.

Here’s a lyric excerpt:

We read the wind and the sky
When the sun is high
We sail the length of the seas
On the ocean breeze
At night we name every star
We know where we are
We know who we are, who we are

The wayfinding tradition is that they learn how to read the stars, the ocean, and the wind to navigate the sea. Because they have been landlubbers for so long, they’ve forgotten how. The secrets weren’t passed down. When Moana’s father tried to venture beyond the reef, he didn’t know how to sail, so when he encountered a storm, he lost his best friend to the depths. He never forgave himself, and when he became the chief, he put an end to voyaging past the boundary of the reef. Moana, whose name means ocean, couldn’t ignore the call.

Learning the origins of her people is a significant moment for her–it gives her the validation that she can, in fact, heed the call of the ocean. She realizes that if she can revive the sailing tradition with her people, it would solve their food shortage and dying island problem. Her father is displeased by this idea, and threatens to burn the boats. Her grandmother uses this time to fall ill (again, in a perfectly Joseph Campbell pushing-you-on-the-adventure sort of way). Her grandmother tells her to go, and while everyone’s back is turned…she does.

My interpretation of the song hinges on the line,

“We know where we are
We know who we are, who we are”

The very identity of the people is wrapped up in the adventure. By adventuring, they know who they are. They always know where they are, and they’re never lost. Importantly, their collective Self is never lost. It’s a rather popular notion in contemporary culture that “not all who wander are lost.” But what does it mean to be lost really? Can one be lost if one knows exactly where one happens to be?

This is something that I think American culture values in our myths. From pirates, to cowboys, to space explorers, American myth is filled with people who are never lost, yet are constantly on the move. The constant state of being rootless has created a weird phenomenon that Rollo May sums up through his analysis of “the lonely cowboy” (The Cry for Myth). We perpetuate the myth of this character, even if it’s not factually true–we want to be on the move, but it does get lonely.

Moana’s ancestors traveled as a tribe. This is something that is missed in American culture. We may move in our small families, but not the entire extended family. We no longer move in tribes, and seem to value the fact that we don’t. Part of Moana’s boon is relearning the wayfinding tradition so she can reactivate the identity of her people. Imagine what strength we could have as a country if we reactivated our identity as a people, and started to once again sail together as a tribe.

Moana and the Ocean

The other day, I was surfing a Buzzfeed article about Moana and came across a delicious little tidbit:

“Moana” means “ocean,” and it’s a nongendered word.

This is a significant detail in the context of the movie. Spoilers below.

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So, here’s the thing: The whole point of the film is that Moana is struggling with the fact that the ocean is calling her. When she’s a baby, the ocean chooses her. She wanders over to the sea, lured by a pretty shell. She reaches for it, and the ocean parts a pathway for her. She follows the trail of shells and meets a column of ocean, who essentially kisses her in the universal symbol of blessing, and gives her the green heart of Tafiti. She drops the heart as she runs back to her father, who is very nervous about the lure of the ocean (although he recognizes that Moana experiences the same call as he does–but this really isn’t a story about father atonement, so don’t get distracted by this detail).

Until she finally heeds the call to adventure, she struggles with the call of the ocean. I wrote about her anthem, “How Far I’ll Go,” in another post. One of the other members of my Doctor Disney trinity, Dori Koehler, wrote this great post about the Call to Adventure and Moana’s message for our country. (Our third is the ever-wonderful Amy Davis. You know, that Amy Davis.)

But think about it this way: if her names mean ocean, that call that she’s struggling with is the call of her Self. So let’s talk about how this film isn’t just about empowerment; it’s about individuation.

Personally, I think that individuation is one of Jung’s best concepts. This is the process by which one becomes a whole in-divid-ual, with a balanced psyche (conscious and unconscious). One of the arguments I get into with older Jungians is whether or not individuation can happen in younger people. One way of interpreting Jung’s theory about individuation suggests that once you achieve it, you’ve achieved nirvana, and you’re done. The way I tend to interpret individuation places emphasis on the process, and brings together the end goal of the process with the hero’s journey of Joseph Campbell. One often overlooked detail about Campbell’s journey is that the hero has to go home and share the boon, and once this is done, the hero goes off on another journey. Stories aren’t written to share with us the next step of the journey. So what if the heroes aren’t just going off into the woods…but rather going on their next journey?

That, to me, is closer to the reality of life. We constantly go from one journey to the next. Each journey builds on the previous to define who we are, adding a facet to our in-divid-uality.

When Campbell writes about what happens to us when we ignore the call to adventure, he’s cautioning us from getting so static that we forget about the journey and forget who we are. That little voice constantly calling us tells us who we are. It’s our heart.

The ocean is calling Moana. The heart of Tafiti is her heart. Her heart is literally calling her home.

Moana’s boon is to restore her people to their Wayfinding tradition. She learns from Maui how to navigate the seas, and she takes her people back on the adventure. As the song of the Wayfinders tells us, they always know home in their heart as they go searching for the next island. The point of her people is to go on the hunt for the islands that Maui raises with his fishhook. To constantly go on questing journeys for the next adventure.

When I sat through the credits of the film, I posted on Facebook the observation that this film out-Campbells Joseph Campbell. Because it does: Campbell may have given us the literary road map of the hero’s journey, but this film takes to that next level: the journey continues. Literally. We continue.

Speaking of heart, I want to give a shout-out to the short film ahead of Moana, called Inner Workings of the Human Body. Do you follow your head? Or your heart?

Moana

I would be remiss to not write something about Moana. I took my daughter to see this film as a Black Friday celebration. Let’s start with the trailer, then go through some comments, with spoilers of course.

There’s so much to say about this film that I’m still a bit speechless and struggle to gather all of my thoughts in a way that makes sense. The premise of the film is that Maui, trickster god that he is, steals the heart of Tafiti, the Mother Goddess of all life. His reasoning is that if he gives the key to making life to the humans, then they’ll be able to also make life and can prosper. At least he seems like he had some good intentions, right? He’s punished, though. Cast away on a remote island, and separated from his fishhook, which is the magical tool that gives him his god-like power (remember, he’s a demi-god).

As a baby, Moana, the chieftain’s daughter, finds the heart and is clearly blessed by the ocean for something far greater than herself.

What follows is this totally, and perfectly, Campbellian hero’s journey, except that it’s a very feminine journey. Moana isn’t a warrior (one of my peeves about female heroes–do they always have to be a warrior to have a hero’s journey? That’s so lame.), but she’s someone who feels a call to adventure. Her grandmother teaches her to listen to those voices that whisper inside of her, and when her island starts to die, she finally listens to that whisper. Her anthem, “How Far I’ll Go,” ranks up there with “Let It Go” for Great Disney Empowerment Anthems. It’s about hearing the Call, and struggling to get to the point where she’ll heed it. The song is reprised throughout the film at key moments when Moana unlocks another aspect of herself, with the final reprise wrapped into the song, “I Am Moana,” which is the moment when, after failing to confront the volcano god, she gains the courage to finish the journey.

And then there’s Maui. Maui is a trickster. He stole fire, raised islands, and many heroic deeds. When we first meet Maui, he literally acts like HE’S the greatest gift to humanity. His song, “You’re Welcome,” sings like the anthem for any dude who thinks that all women should be subservient and thankful for all the things that the male heroes do. But he’s incredibly lonely and doesn’t know how to be a hero without his fishhook. When Moana tells him that he’s no longer a hero to humanity and that the people are suffering, she uses this ego to convince him to go on the journey with her to restore the heart to Tafiti. What he winds up learning along the way is humility, that he’s not all that (and a hook of tricks).

The restoration of Tafiti’s heart can be read as a message of restoring the feminine, taking care of Mother Earth, having respect for the delicate balance of life…whatever flavor you prefer. In light of the rather tumultuous year that 2016 has been, restoring her heart and Tafiti’s forgiveness of Maui is one of the most beautiful, optimistic messages I’ve encountered recently. Everyone learns a little something about themselves.

Moana returns to her people with the boon of knowing how to be a Wayfinder. She reawakens the ancient spirit of her people, who were career adventurers, not domestic farmers. Maui learns new respect for humans and their relationship with the gods. The gods liked that Maui would raise islands with his hook, because it gave the people new places to explore. This was the natural order of things, which got out of balance because Maui took the heart.

My daughter loved the film. She’s just over 4, so she was most scared by the volcano god (of course). She’s started singing the songs and tells everyone that she’s going to Moana’s island (she’s had a Moana doll for about a month now, and she was really excited about seeing the movie). It resonated with the both of us in a strong way.

All I can say is, “Way to go, Disney!” It’s not a perfect adaptation of Polynesian myths, and I’m sure someone will STILL find something wrong with the depiction of Moana. But it is truly a masterpiece of storytelling and animation (Moana has curly hair and Maui has interactive tattoos). I think this is definitely the right story for the right time, much like Frozen was and continues to be. If you want to look at it mythically, the two films go together: one is about listening to the inner voice (Frozen) and the other is about having the courage to let the voice be the guide (Moana).

I leave you with the music video for the celebrity cover of “How Far I’ll Go.” It’s a little too pop for my taste, but it’s worth giving a listen.

Oh, and one last thing: the music was written by the same people who wrote Hamilton. I haven’t seen/heard Hamilton yet, but now I’m totally convinced to give it a try.

Post-Election OMG

unnamedI did finish the Lego Disney castle awhile ago, but the election (the feverish last couple weeks leading up to it and the time since) has moved my attention elsewhere. I’ve spent–literally–every night since Halloween playing Lego: Batman on my Xbox. Well, specifically #2 and #3. #2 is cool because it gives you an opportunity to explore Gotham, and #3 is interesting because it’s more about the wider DC canon (especially Green Lantern) than it is about Batman. For the record, the first Lego: Batman is my gold standard video game by which I measure all others, even the classic games of my childhood Atari and Nintendo days. Whoever had the brilliant idea of having a the player go through a Batman adventure only to unlock and go through the same adventure from the perspective of the villain is totally brilliant.

There’s a lot of conversation that needs to happen about this election. Not so much the “Why the fuck did this happen” conversation but more the “what can we do to make things better?” This election, whether you supported Trump or Hillary, was an exercise in the American Shadow, the nightmarish underbelly of the American Dream. It’s not just our constitution and civil liberties in jeopardy–but the entire fabric of the American myth.

When I was writing my dissertation, I was stuck on the chapter about New Orleans Square. I knew I was going to write about pirates, ghosts, and shadow, but I couldn’t quite figure out why or how. I think I spent more time on this chapter than I did on the rest of the dissertation.

One day, it struck me. I was watching the Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland collection about space and the atom, and the answer hit me in the face as though it had been staring at me the whole time. The Cold War. I had the history of the colonies, the frontier, and the foundations of American utopianism, but I didn’t have the why Disneyland now answer. The Cold War. The heart of the modern American Dream dates back to the mass consumerism of the Great Depression, but the stress, the shadow, the Doubt…that stems from the Cold War.

I was raised as a privileged person. Part of that privilege was the belief that the Cold War was a thing of the past. Yet, somehow, I knew it wasn’t. I intuited that we’d replaced Communism with Terrorism and that we weren’t done with the Shadow. Which is why the chapter was called: The Shadow of Doubt.

Going through this election was a super-impossible challenge. The results of it still have me reeling. It’s difficult to know what needs to be done next, but I suspect the answer lies in the fact that we need to start rewriting the myth. Define the American Dream on the utopian principles that inspired the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) rather than on our ability to have stuff. Our privilege.

It’s not an easy proposition, and I know that. So that’s why I’m playing Batman.

Meanwhile, check out my book, available on Amazon.com.

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Lego Disney Castle, Part Two

I’m still not finished yet, but on track to be finished this week. I am intentionally not building it in one sitting to give it some time to sink in.

Phase Three

This one too about an hour to build. This phase gives the castle the first set of walls and the main door. Not too much to see here.

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Phase Four

This one also took about an hour to build. This phase is a little more exciting than Phase Three, in that there is a lot more detail than we saw in the previous sections.

This one has a movie reference:

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There’s Merida’s arrow, quiver, and the target from Brave. The best part? Those little tan circles represent the three cakes that her mother and brothers eat to turn into bears!

Main entrance chandelier:

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A Grandfather clock:

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As an interesting bit of trivia, all of the clocks in the castle are set for 11:55, locking the castle in the last exciting few minutes before midnight.

A vase of flowers:

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While not technically a movie reference, I can’t help but imagine Bedknobs and Broomsticks when I look at the suits of armor.

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And all together:

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Phase Five

This phase only took about 40 minutes. Minnie joins Mickey:

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And the castle gets some walls:

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Phase Six

This one took an hour-twenty (I’m tracking the time, because I’m curious how long the total project takes).

A reference to Aladdin (the carpet and lamp):

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More walls:

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Phase Seven

Just under an hour at 50 minutes. The front is coming together now:

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Phase Eight

This one took an hour. I constructed both Phase Seven and Phase Eight during the third presidential debate. Building Legos made the show of the debate much easier to deal with. And perhaps with a bit of irony (given that I was watching the debate), Donald Duck joins the castle cast:

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And the walls start growing towers:

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Phase Nine

And then I took a couple days off to get ready for a conference this weekend. This phase took almost an hour, and the towers got flags:

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To be continued!

 

Lego Disney Castle

For my upcoming birthday, I decided to get myself the Lego Disney Castle. This is an exclusive set that contains more than 4,000 pieces. I have a profound love of Lego, and it seems that they increasingly turn their sights toward developing model kits, not just free form bricks. That makes my previous posts about why Lego instructions are useful all the more relevant. I don’t often spend my time or money on Lego products any more. For a while, I was obsessively buying the Star Wars models, only to burn out of Star Wars. I’ve sold or gotten rid of most of those sets by now, but I still have my Millennium Falcon, which, until this castle, is my Lego pride and joy.

So I got the castle:

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When the castle was released in September, it boasted being the set with the most pieces Lego has ever released. The forthcoming Death Star (!) might actually have a bit more. The price tag is also daunting–a whopping $350 (retail)! Before you scoff at the idea of a box of plastic (by the way, the box itself is as big as my daughter), this set has far more custom parts than I have ever seen in a Lego kit. I can forgive the price and exclusivity. I really can’t imagine Lego mass manufacturing plastic mouse ears…

So last night I started the build. The instruction book is 450 pages, and is a hefty chunk of pages. I’ve noticed a couple new features about Lego kits (I also recently bought a newer set for my daughter’s birthday): one is that the instruction books include an inventory of the pieces that are included in the book, including how many and their part number. This is helpful in case one ever needs to get just a single piece (remember when a kit was ruined forever when it was missing one single key piece?). The other is that the pieces are divided into phases, and numbered accordingly. Given that this castle has 14 phases spread across 30 or so bags, I’m grateful for not having to hunt and peck through all 30 bags. I’m also grateful for not having to have all bags open at once.

There’s another piece that Lego has since designed:

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It’s a Brick Separator! I’m convinced that my entire childhood would have been different had I had one of these. One of my complaints with my old bucket of bricks was that certain pieces were IMPOSSIBLE to separate, so I stopped piecing them together. I’m convinced that this tool would have encouraged me to free form build more. (Imagine the possibilities!)

Last night, I started building Phase One and Phase Two. Because I can, I thought I’d share the process. I have a conference next week and I haven’t finished my paper yet, so I think it’s going to take me a little bit to get the whole castle built.

PHASE ONE

I started Phase One last night at 8:49. This stage included building the foundation for the castle. There’s a lot of detail involved in Phase One; the foundation is 3 layers thick, and it feels like one of the most solid modular foundations (as opposed to a single baseplate) that I’ve ever built on. About halfway through, I found the first film reference:

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Yes, those are little Lego frogs. Tiana and Naveen. On lily pads! The castle boasts 14 film references, mostly Princess and Fantasyland films, but it adds a layer of detail that makes this castle even more magical.

I finished Phase One at 10:21, so roughly an hour and a half later, and here’s what I accomplished:

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It doesn’t seem like much, but, like I said, it’s a really strong foundation. I’m confident that it’s not going anywhere. Since the final product is over 2 feet tall, a strong base is important.

PHASE TWO

I began Phase Two at 10:23 with the building of this little guy:

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Mickey is one five minifigs that comes in the set. When Disney released the minifig mystery bags over the summer, I got a few of them (I wish I had tried to get more, but I didn’t realize they were a temporary thing…like everything else Disney). I didn’t take a picture of his back, but part of building Mickey includes a little cloth tuxedo tail.

I finished 40ish minutes later at 11:09, and it doesn’t look like much progress:

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With any luck, I’ll build a bit more tonight. There’s something truly thrilling about building Legos, and it’s a similar something to knitting a sweater or building IKEA furniture. I enjoy the exercise of taking two dimensional instructions and making the three dimensional product manifest, come to life, and become a tangible object for me to enjoy. So, more to come. Stay tuned!

CALL FOR PAPERS

So, I decided to move in the direction of writing a Second Book, and the idea manifested to also write a Third Book as well. Second Book is going to be an exploration with fellow Disney Doctors, Dori Koehler (author of the forthcoming exegesis of Disneyland and ritual) and Amy Davis (author of such notable classics as Good Girls and Wicked Witches and Handsome Heroes and Vile Villains), exploring Disney Princesses from a few different angles, including the princess as a kore, her role as an archetypal image of American culture, and the evolution of the princess over the history of the films. This is still in the nascent stage, but now that I’ve announced it, that makes it real.

The Third Book is an edited volume for Intellect Books’ Fan Phenomena series. This is a really cool series that looks at fandoms, the culture impact of fandoms, the psychological meaning of fandoms, and how fans connect with their fandoms. Each volume in this series is themed around a specific fandom, and volumes in the series include: Buffy the Vampire SlayerStar Trek, Star Wars, The Big Lebowski, Twin Peaks, Mermaids… So I’ve proposed a volume to add to the series, one focusing specifically on Disney. From Princesses and Pirates to MousePlanet and Lou Mongello’s WDW tours to the D23 and MMC, this volume plans to explore the delicate intersection between Disney’s consumerist machine versus the organic way that fans connect with Disney.

The CFP and submission guidelines can be found on Intellect’s website: http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/weblog/view-Post,id=82717/

The aim of this project is academic and focused specifically on the fans, not analyses of the movies etc. The focus is specifically on Disney, not Star Wars or Marvel, because they’re already included in other volumes in the series.

Deadline for proposals isn’t until April, but why not get a head start?

Why, oh why, Did I Watch the Debate?

I made the mistake earlier this week of watching the first presidential debate. This debate affected me more emotionally than previous debates ever have, and no amount of very yummy Shiner Oktoberfest could drown my sorrows. Ever since the 2000 election (the first presidential election I was old enough to vote in), I’ve followed politics and media more closely than my happiness would prefer. My interest comes not simply because of political interest, because my liberal arts education actually accomplished what it was supposed to do.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Houston, two classes had the greatest impact on my view of the world:

In Fall 2000, I took Fascism and German Cinema with Sandy Frieden. On the first day of class, she introduced herself as “a liberal, a feminist, a democrat, and a Jew.” This rather frank introduction gave her an air of authenticity that kept me hanging on every. single. word she said throughout the class. Plus, the sheer exposure to Nazi propaganda and reviewing it through a critical lens exposed me to the power of media that I hadn’t considered up until that point.

In Fall 2002, I took Propaganda and Mass Communication with Garth Jowett. He had us looking more critically at American media and how propaganda techniques are used in both political media and in entertainment to influence cultural perceptions. I remember the fondly when he came in lecturing about then-president George W. Bush. He pointed out that one needs to worry about a world leader who would actually say in a press interview, “After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my daddy.” I later heard that soundbite thanks to Michael Moore, and was even more horrified by the context of that line.

Anyway, in the middle of all this was, obviously, 9/11. It’s hard to go through such a transformative educational experience and not turn a critical eye toward how we, as a country, responded to 9/11 and the aftermath that ensued. This is a difficult perspective to have, and I question whether or not the skepticism that it’s given me is actually healthy…

So it’s even harder to watch political debates like the recent one between Hillary and Trump without massive discomfort. Regardless of one’s political leanings, the debate was a Propaganda Peep Show. All of Trump’s oratory techniques and Hillary’s composure during the entire event was all carefully orchestrated to convince members of either party, and I think it was successful. Liberals are more disgusted by Trump than ever, and I’m going to assume (my Republican friends don’t speak up much around me) that the opinion is mutual on the other side. What really got me, though, as a liberal, feminist, socialist, was that I found myself actually thinking “Yeah! I could vote for Hillary!” I was persuaded. That’s how propaganda works. It’s some external force persuading you to think a certain way, and without you even knowing that it’s happening. That’s what made Nazi propaganda both horrific and successful. It’s what makes me so frightened of Pro-American nationalist rhetoric. It also concerns me that we’re setting up a cultural vibe where the voices of rationalism and reason just can’t be louder than the voices of irrationalism.

As a mother, this election bothers me more than the previous elections. While Mitt Romney wasn’t my first choice for a president, I felt that his politics were far more balanced than several of his fellow Republicans. I was more frightened, since I lived in Texas at the time, about the local elections that were very clearly making an effort to systemically restrict women’s access to healthcare and equal rights for the state’s constituents clearly not in bed with Big Gas and Oil.

This election has me in a panic. It’s not just my daughter’s future on the line, but Just About Everything That Makes America Great is on the line. Our immigration policy, so poetically etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty, is being challenged. Healthcare and student loan reform–my two primary issues–will be thrown back onto the table. And nevermind all of the other stuff that politicians have to deal with. Queue shameless plug for my book for further insights into my thoughts about What Makes America Great. Perhaps it’s a little Mickey Mouse (okay, a LOT, since that’s, you know, kind of the thesis), but I do think that Disneyland perfectly exemplifies American Utopianism and has, in turn, shaped our expectations for cultural constructs.

This is a major turning point for our country. The decisions in November (President, Congress, and Senate) will be game changers, but of what sort depends on the outcome of the elections. Meanwhile, we have to listen closely to the rhetoric. Hillary’s recent campaign about “Is this the president we want for our daughters?” asks a valid question, and it’s the question that will ultimately determine how I vote in November.

Some Draper Thoughts

Over this past summer, I watched Mad Men. While the series did end on a far more optimistic note than the 1960s did themselves, the show is ultimately a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense. we are moved toward pity for the characters, especially Don Draper, and through this, we can experience a catharsis.

In particular, I resonated with the female characters. Joan Harris showed me a professional woman’s path full of sexual harassment…something I’ve been protected from by industry standards and Equal Rights laws (and perhaps also my Throne of Privilege). Peggy Olson showed me a woman who was willing to overcome social norms and pursue her authentic self. Betty Draper gave me cause to look in the mirror of my own relationship to my mother, thus prompting all this recent work on Demeter and Persephone, a myth that has underscored so much of my identify formation.

***Some spoilers about Mad Men are ahead.***

At the end of the series, we find out that Betty is dying of advanced lung cancer. Her daughter, Sally, has to carry the burden of this looming death in the special way that only a daughter can. But it’s even more upsetting that she’s a teenager when it comes to light. My own mother died from complications with COPD, also a decaying lung disease, when I was 16. She was 54. Really, this is my primary reference for what aging looks like. She spent her “middle age” growing progressively sicker, and I spent my youth struggling with the constant battle between my innate daughterly-duty of taking care of her and rebelling against the whole thing. I’ve had to find Demeter entirely as a Persephone, alone and without the veiled mother longing for my return.

Being the same age that Betty was in the show, her character provides a helpful lens for dissecting the Demeter-Persephone balance that I’m missing. It’s difficult for me to read the books of the women who came before, because they frame their experiences and myths according to a narrative that doesn’t align with my Millennial upbringing. I’ve been fed a narrative that women as they age should do everything they can to maintain their beauty and youth until they no longer can deny the inevitability of their age. In other words, I’m supposed to go from young to old overnight without the journey in between. That narrative is missing. Betty’s narrative helps provide some context, except for the fact that she dies young.

Betty Draper doesn’t fully become an emotional mother until the opportunity presents itself for her to impart her wisdom on her daughter, but Betty and Sally’s relationship struggles underneath the weight of Betty’s own challenging relationship with her dead mother, one that also struggled to nurture and develop a healthy space for daughter to develop her identity. As Sally exerts her identity, Betty struggles with her rebellion and independence, blaming Don for not being a stronger authoritative figure for Sally. There’s a childishness in Betty’s mothering technique that isn’t resolved until she finally embraces her role as a mother.

Mything Motherhood

The reason I’ve been offline for awhile is, perhaps not coincidentally, the same thing that I’m working on now: motherhood. My daughter’s birthday, marking her early mid-single digit years, isn’t too far away. Meanwhile, I’ve felt compelled to work on a couple research projects that explore motherhood from a mythic perspective. I’ve done the rumination about motherhood from a cultural perspective, and it really isn’t helping. My experience has led me to conclude that American culture, for the most part, fundamentally hates mothers and children. We’ve turned pregnancy and birth into a medical condition. We no longer provide a reliable, affordable system that allows mothers to stay at home with their tiny children. For those fortunate enough to stay at home for the first years before school, we make it impossible for her to either find self-family balance and/or to return to the workforce. And think of it: how many of our celebrated pop culture warrior she-roes aren’t actually mothers. (Someday I’ll share my thoughts on why revering Wonder Woman is actually not helping).

My own journey into motherhood certainly hasn’t been easy, but that’s a story for a completely different forum. What’s brought me into the work is the fact that the myth of Demeter and Persephone keeps making a return. I explored Persephone during my first myth class at Pacifica with Christine Downing. I explored Persephone again a couple years late in a film class at Pacifica with Ginette Paris. Demeter and Persephone recently came up when I wrote a guest blog on Carol Pearson’s blog, and I’ve taught the myth a couple of times when applicable in my classes. But it wasn’t until my most recent rereading of the Homeric Hymn that I finally realized…I had the wrong perspective about Persephone.

Neil Gaiman mentioned in his piece, “What the [Very Bad Swearword] is a Children’s Book, Anyway?” (included in his excellent collection, View from the Cheap Seats, which I highly recommend to anyone who calls herself a writer), that a well-written kids book will reveal more (especially about sex) as the reader ages and becomes more experienced. I’ve long identified with Persephone, but it wasn’t until I started relating to Demeter that I was better able to recognize that additional layer of the story that Gaiman describes. I also read Ovid’s version for the first time immediately after the Homeric Hymn, reinforcing that this story is definitely more complex than I’d realized.

So here’s what I’m working on: I’ve taken a fascination recently in the moment that a girl shifts from embodying the archetypal energies of Persephone  into a woman embracing those of Demeter. It’s not a matter of biology, as Joseph Campbell would have be believe–I don’t have the citation handy, but he once mentioned that girls enter womanhood as a matter of biology. Just because a woman has a baby, doesn’t make her a mother. Some women remain stunted as Persephone mothers, and I blame this perspective on a culture that refuses to allow a woman to age. Rather, a culture that refuses to allow women to have an archetypal container through middle age.

This is what makes Demeter’s story so attractive, as well described by my wonderful friend, Rebekah Lovejoy, in a guest blog on Carol Pearson’s website. I’ve reached the front end of middle age, and I find myself distancing further away from my youth. I currently have a job that mostly resembles stable, and I’m a mother. A working mother. An early, middle-aged working mother.

I hear the call of Demeter and her mysteries of womanhood. And she is telling me to write.