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.