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Letters from Proxima Thule

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My Dinner With Persephone
All writers have their obsessions. That stuff they can't let go, that they return to again and again. Sometimes it's a man with roughly bitten-down fingernails. Sometimes it's a girl/boy/AI hired by a shadowy oligarch seeking some crazy thing across the known world. Sometimes it's the end of childhood. There's always something you straight up just can't quit, and usually a lot of things.

I have a lot of things. Bad parents, abandoned kids, broken girls getting whole, poorly socialized psyches incapable of understanding social systems. I have a lot.

But in the end, I just can't stop writing about Persephone.

I feel bad about it in a way. There's this process by which anything girls love becomes disdainful, cliched, sad, in a way that the things boys love never do. Boys can love pulp SF and westerns and comic books, and they become greater, they become epics and serious films and graphic novels. But for every girl who ever loved Sylvia Plath in high school, for every one who watched that crocus of a girl slipping away into the earth and saw herself, there is a invisible choir of derisive laughter, there is an instant satire of that love--just another one of those sad, dirty girls, another goth girl who thinks she's special, how can anyone bear that emo poetry, how can anyone take a girl seriously who loves Morgan le Fay and Persephone and ankh-wearing Death, just like all the other girls?

And I read slush. I know. Basically no one can stop writing about Persephone. (Or did you think Twilight was about something else?) There's a reason the greatest Mysteries of the ancient world were about her. Crack open any fantasy-accepting slushpile and you will find Persephone in a hundred stories, maybe one of which adds anything new at all. It's not an obsession that has geek cred. Too much love means you can turn up your geek nose about it.

And so when I go back to that well, that well which to me is so deep and giving, I feel guilt. What if they see that I'm still that girl wearing black in the hallway of some eternal school? What if they see that what obsesses me doesn't make the cover of Wired like post-scarcity economics or reputation-based currency system? I feel I should not be That Girl. I should give equal time to others. But I can't help it, I can't help how the symbols of the story crackle in my head, I can't help how I see my life in that story, how few stories we have that are about a girl's journey, and part of the reason this one hits so hard is that there is a rape at the center of it, and we all have to decide how we deal with that elephant in the Sicilian field, whether we say she loved the darkness too, whether we give her all the power, whether we say she was stolen, whether we say she was happy underground, whether we say she was miserable and her mother saved her. We decide if we see our own rapes and our own violations, the men (and women) who have put us in a cage in the dark, who have taken without asking, who have said that because they thought we were beautiful, they had the right to own us. We decide if we see the ways in which we flipped those scripts, and came out swinging into the light. And of course, it's her mother's story too, Hades is basically a motive force that acts once and never again. The rest is the story of women.

And for me, who grew up with parents who hated each other, who spent the all the seasons but one in piney grey Seattle, and summers in California, so hot it felt like hell, felt like being underground, who spent her young life being a punchline to a sad, horrible joke her parents kept telling each other over and over, who married a man who would bury her, who would take her away from the world, to Japan, to a place where no one could ever find her, where no one could break the hold he had on her, who chose to eat those seeds, who chose that man and that marriage, and then had to claw up out of the underworld only to find herself in the rust belt with a dead lake on one side, who saw it was only underworlds all the way down and up too, and you either decide to be a black-eyed queen or you decide to be that broken kid getting dragged away into the night, well, the story just never stopped showing its relevance to me. Never stopped being about me, just like it's about a lot of us.

I don't know if I'll ever be past writing about Persephone. If it will ever stop being the myth of my life. I don't really want to--the thing about katabasis (fancy Greek word for descending to the underworld and returning. It's such an important thing it gets it own word, and my name is Cat, and it's short for everything) is that it never stops. It's a process. And if you don't hit that black stair every year or so things wither up. The whole idea of that story is how a person is a world, and the cycle keeps moving, and it's never, ever over. You have to go into the earth, you have to come back up again.

So I repeat myself. I keep writing this story. Because the world has a stutter, and she keeps picking the crocus. Because for a this girl, a Sylvia girl, a Morgan girl, a Death girl, a pomegranate girl, it's the story that keeps telling me.

Persephone's descent into the underworld is like a taxi ride... Demeter never stops running.

Write the stories that sing to you, and they'll sing to everyone like you. Let those who mock go elsewhere, never understanding the beauty - and the relevance - that you find and share.

And there are other storytellers, to tell the other stories - you have no obligation to. :)

When she's the story of your life like that, I imagine you can think of an endless variety of spins on her story. At least sometimes, you can be that one in a hundred with something new to say about her.

Also, Seattle without the summers? I know it's not the worst part, but it makes the sadness of the situation much more vivid to me. Summer is so much of the _point_ of Seattle.

I feel bad about it in a way. There's this process by which anything girls love becomes disdainful, cliched, sad, in a way that the things boys love never do.

Yes, I feel this to be right in so many ways. There seems to be a system in place in which it's much more OK for women writers to embrace genres that are coded in a masculine way--westerns or science fiction or whatever--while anyone who embraces those particular corners of "feminine" genres (boy or girl or in between) runs a real risk of ridicule (alliteratively).

& the codes--so arbitrary! Fables, myths, Sandman, spinning, weaving, beading & Thomas James. Like coding scents or tastes or colors, really, the which practice also confuseth in measure grete.

Also, New Zealish poet James K. Baxter on this sort of thing: "What happens to me is meaningless or else it is mythology."

That is beautiful.You have opened up a lot of that myth for me and continue to do so. Shine on, pomegranate girl.

I'm an Inanna girl myself--passing through the gates of the underworld, shedding power at each one, until I arrive naked before my furious sister-self. But those two stories ping and echo against each other. You go down into the earth, whether you're the daughter of Demeter or the Sumerian goddess of sexuality and war. And you are ransomed, and come back.

Depending on the day and the year, I ascribe different motivations for Inanna's walk into the underworld. In the end, she chose to go, and that's what matters to me. That choice.

Yeah, they're similar, those stories. And in the end we all go over and over those six seeds, and whether they were a choice, and what it means for us one way or the other. I guess the fuzzy place between choice and nonchoice fascinates me more than Inanna's inarguable power. I've never felt my power inarguable, always been Erishkegal in that play.

I really like your description of Persephone's relevance, and agree - it's definitely a myth that's resonated throughout time, for a lot of women.

And I admit, I wrote a Persephone story myself not all that long ago. I don't know whether it really added anything new in an absolute sense, but it was the Persephone story I'd always wanted to read but never had.

On the off-chance that you (or anyone else) would like to see it, it's here, but I know published writers get deluged with wanna-be-writers clamouring "Read my stoooooorrrryyy!!" so I'm not going to be offended, or remotely surprised, if you don't. :-/

Craig Chalquist, a depth psychologist, has spent a great deal of time and energy looking at our personal myths, their holds on us, and how--when we are ready--we can change the story to adapt to our shifting identities. I highly recommend his book Storied Lives.

Do you see the Psyche-Cupid myth as related to the Persephone myth - a diminished echo, a harmonization, a variation on a theme? Or Ishtar/Inanna? They don't have to go to the underworld, but they choose to in order to regain something they cherished that was taken from them.

Inanna definitely goes to the underworld, and Persephone is in a lot of ways a retelling of Inanna without Erishkegal--though in some versions Hekate brings Persephone out of Hades, not Hermes and I like that.

I've never like the Psyche/Cupid myth much. Because it seems to me to be talking about the weakness of women, and how they can be punished for curiosity and wanting to know a man completely. It's always really rubbed me the wrong way.

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I'm not sure Persephone is the sword swinging type, really. I've never really identified with those women, though I admire them. They aren't /me/, because shit, I let a lot go down in my life without picking up a sword. Good luck with your story!

and you said, "That's a crocus,"/ And I said, "What's a crocus?" and you said, "It's a flower",/ I tried to remember but I said, "What's a flower?"/ You said, "I still love you."

I can never let go of Her either, I just keep seeing different sides and as I keep aging, I see now Her mom's and some day I'll see Hecate's too. It's special to still be part of these mysteries after so many years.

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...I like to think that I thrashed the Universe, the story And myself, into taking back the one who tried to bury me, and trading him for one who made me that dark-eyed queen, someone who also walks among creatures.

And the rest? Thirty damned years, and I'm only just learning not to apologise for my personal myths.

I think that anything people love, especially if it's new, is going to attract a lot of contempt, though you may be right about the gender distinction.

Still, I can remember that little shock when I was a kid. Demeter was the only goddess with actual power.

I've heard that most of what we think we know about the Roman deities (at least-- I'm not so sure about the Greek, but they may be included) was actually late satire and not the actual religions. I can believe that-- so much of the mythology is about sexual jealousy. The story of Persephone is the one that feels like the real thing.

In a lot of Roman poetry, they talk about Mother Ceres and Father Bacchus. Those two, as the parent gods of the universe. I think that's amazing, kind of a wrench from the idea of Zeus.

If a girl loves Neil Gaiman’s portrayal of a cheerful and well-adjusted Death, that’s a serious plus in my book; she’s a great role model for keeping a sane balance of seriousness and lightheartedness. (And yes, my darling obsessivewoman did have a “happy goth” phase.)