Stranger Things 2 & The Mother Wound

My husband and I just finished Stranger Things 2, and since I get an extra hour of night, have had 2+ beers which is probably the equivalent of a six pack in some people, let's talk about the giant vagina wound in the season finale of Stranger Things 2 and The Mother Wound, and hope that when I re-read this when I am sober that I do not feel the need to edit out words like "vagina" or this whole post in general.

First, because I am slightly intoxicated let's ignore that when I googled "the mother wound" to remind myself of the meaning of a term that I haven't heard since undergrad but has stuck with me since, probably because I lost my own mother in undergrad, that the first source that came up that I found merit in was from Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop. Let's blame the beer. 

With that out of the way, let's all get up to speed on what The Mother Wound is:

"At the macro level, the mother wound is a matrilineal wound—a burden that manifests in mothers, and is passed on from generation to generation. It’s the pain and grief that grows in a woman as she tries to explore and understand her power and potential in a society that doesn’t make room for it, forcing her to internalize the dysfunctional coping mechanisms learned by previous generations of women. The mother wound reflects the challenges a woman faces as she goes through transformations in her life in a society where the patriarchy has denied us ongoing matrilineal knowledge and structures."

Let's also add that The Mother Wound is intensified when the mother is absent, which is why this concept stuck with me for so long, as I came into adulthood and lost my own mother at exactly the same time (age 20, which in a society where people don't start "adulting" till about age 30, is more or less emotional puberty these days). What does one do when they don't have a solid mother figure while on the cusp of becoming an actual adult and not just a biological one capable of reproducing and having funny stirrings about people one finds attractice? Drink a lot of alcohol and make bad choices in the dating field, to start, but in general meander around like a fool not knowing how to "debut" into the adult world properly, IE, make a crap ton of stupid mistakes. I get that everyone makes some stupid decisions in their early 20's (or the whole damn decade), but when you're 20 and grieving your mother, step aside son, I probably made more. 

ANYWAY. Stranger Things 2. Here we have a girl, Eleven, who has lost her mother thanks to evil goons who shock the shit out of her mom's brain when she tries to get back her child, which, as a mother, I totally get, and I, too, might draw guns on assholes who kidnap my daughter. DON'T TOUCH MY DAUGHTER. Anyway. Her mother is taken from her, and while not dead, as Eleven discovers, is addled beyond reach. Eleven grew up with "Papa," who neither taught her to be female nor human, so Eleven is kind of super fucked and ends up murdering lots of people, but in the fairness of fiction land, they were bad people. See: Kali's logic.

When Eleven (Jane! By god call the girl by the name her poor electroshocked mother gave her) meets a "sister," Kali, who was a fellow lab specimen with special powers, Kali manifests Papa to tell Jane that there is a wound inside her that will never heal, and that wound will kill her if she doesn't face it. Kali's solution to "face it" is murderizing all the goons.

We of the slightly more moral high ground, having not been gooned all our lives, can veer away from murdering other kids' parents, and steer back to our pumpkin-beer driven discussion of metaphorical vagina wounds. So, let's go back to the idea that The Mother Wound is an inherited wound that will seep into a girl's experience of herself and poison her ability to live authentically thanks to the restraints of our patriarchal culture. On the literal level, Jane's wound is the damage done to her by Papa and his Dr. Mengele-esque treatment of her, denying her a normal life and the mother who loves her. On the metaphorical level, Jane is The Mother Wound manifested, the absence of a mother-guide on how to be human (and female), and the absence of a mother, period. This wound LITERALLY takes the shape of a giant vagina that Jane has to seal to "close the gate" and save her friends, because her mother wound has become so toxic and out of control that it is hollowing out the town and killing everyone. Interestingly enough, Jane is a side-story in this whole season until the very end, which also plays into the idea that The Mother Wound is in-part manifested from the sidelining of women in society. As Goop interviewee Dr. Oscar Serrallach puts it:

“This [patriarchal culture] tells females not to shine, to remain small; and that if you are going to try and be successful, that you should be masculine about it.”

Jane was looking pretty dang masculine in that black blazer and slicked-back hair when she kicks some Mother Wound ass. Once she closes the giant flaming vagina wound, we see her again looking - hooray! - feminine and "pretty" (there' some issues with this word from season one, but here it's a fitting metaphor for grasping one's femininity by the ovaries, so soldier through) because the wound is cured, and she doesn't have to be masculine to stake out her space (season three better follow suit and give her back the starring role).

Somewhere in here I should consider my own Mother Wound, especially now that I am a mother and don't want to shortchange my daughter in the experience of being a woman (should she decide she is one - because I love that kid no matter what) (more parenthesis, there is also issue with the experience of toxic masculinity in our culture - can we call it The Penis Wound? - but that's another post. STOP CENTERING YOURSELVES MENS THIS IS A POST ABOUT LADIES). Ahem, my daughter. I want her to know she is perfect and glorious as she is, and however she will be, whoever she will be. That about covers the list of things she needs to know to help heal The Mother Wound. I'm up to the challenge of imparting that knowledge. After the hangover I'm sure to experience passes.

I am now into my third beer and thinking: look at how few typos I've made! I think some of these sentences made sense! I think I've used the word "vagina" at least three times! I used to go to The Flying Saucer and drink like five beers and be fine! I am a light weight! I want ice cream! I better hit publish now, lest I second guess myself in the morning and tell myself I am stupid and this is drivel! I don't care! God bless you, pumpkin beer and extra hour of night.

Little Rock Pilgrimage & Southern YA Reads

Beware the Wild.jpg

Last week I flew with Mariella down to Little Rock to stay with my grandmother. Between the nap-heavy schedules of both a two-year-old and an eighty-five-year-old, I had ample (and welcome) quiet time to read a book at record pace since becoming a momma. My packed paperback of Natalie C. Parker's Beware the Wild helped fill my couch-sitting, air-conditioned afternoons (I tried to take the kiddo to a playground, the zoo, etc., every morning, but by 11 AM every day I'd sweated through my clothes, was in need of a second shower, and wanted only to stay inside till dusk when the mosquitos would chase me back in - welcome home!).

I both loved and didn't like this book and I've spent the days since finishing it parsing why both of these feelings coexist. The reasons I love it hinge on the writing itself and the setting. The novel is set in fictional Sticks, Louisiana. First, I think naming a backwoods southern town "Sticks" is a tad lazy, but Parker makes up for it. Parker's Sticks is populated by strong women and complicated people who are all subject to Parker's astute eye for describing southern tropes, idiosyncrasies, and contradictions. I hate books about the south that either don't understand the south or straight disparage it, and as a broad observation, those types of books are *usually* written by authors not from the south. Parker attended a southern university (is she from the south? I didn't read a comprehensive bio), and manages to include elements of the south's beauty, grit, and ugliness all in a short span of 350 large-type, YA pages. She gets it. 

Sticks is set on the edge of a swamp that essentially eats people. Those who venture in are swallowed whole, including every memory about them in the minds of everyone they ever knew. When a Sticks resident disappears in the swamp, the world rearranges as though that person never existed. But when 16-year-old Sterling Saucier's older brother, Phin, disappears into the swamp, Sterling remembers him. Worse, she alone knows the girl who walks out of the swamp and assumes his life is an imposter.

The novel is the perfect combination of atmospheric and creepy... in the beginning. My first problem comes when the secrets of the swamp are spilled before I'd even read past the first quarter of the book. The tension and elements of horror were lost, perhaps eaten by the swamp and forgotten? I don't know. I read on, though, and enjoyed the novel, but wanted to take scissors, cut out the big reveal, and paste those paragraphs in the back of the book. Wa-la. A perfect, frightening southern YA tale. Someone hire me to beta read, I'm availalble!


My second major issue and the only other one worth mentioning is with Sterling's reason for developing an eating disorder and fighting with her brother. Phin accepted a scholarship to Tulane and Sterling, the dedicated sister, gets so upset she stops eating and lets their relationship slide into antagonism. Girl. I get that she has trauma in her backstory, but I can't fathom being almost a junior in high school - almost free of Sticks herself - and being so upset that her brother is off to university that she sabotages her health and his future. An author is free to assign motivation to a character as they please, but this made it incredibly difficult to like Sterling (ignoring that behavior, I did). 

Back to the joys of the setting, I was so engrossed in this dangerous, haunted swamp that I didn't want to leave it after finishing and spent way too long watching YouTube videos of Louisiana swamp tours and documentaries on swamp dwellers. Not time wasted, though, as this led me to learn about Gwen Roland, whose books Atchafalaya Houseboat: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp and Postmark Bayou Chene are now on my TBR short list. The documentary about her years in the swamp is free to watch on YouTube.

Now that the family visit and Little Rock-tall-pine-recharge has given way to real life in Denver, time to finish the first draft of my YA fantasy-southern-gothic-mashup (looking forward to it).