Interview with Ariel Gore
Ariel Gore, unconventional matriarch, Gen-X trailblazer, and the author of eight books (includingÂ Hip Mamaâ€™s Guide to Raising a Teenager, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, and Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City, winner of the 2010 LAMBDA Literary Award), returns to Atomic Books with The End of Eve, a memoir of the authorâ€™s tumultuous last years caring for her drama-laden, film-noir-loving mother with terminal cancer. Goreâ€™s new book is brilliant, poetic, and impossible to put down.
I first met Ariel Gore when she read atÂ Atomic Books over a decade ago. A few years later, I joined her on theÂ Essential Hip MamaÂ Tour and she wrote the foreword to my first bookÂ The Future Generation, a compilation of the best of my zine. We caught up to talk about her new book.
CP: When did you start writing The End of Eve? And why?
AG: I started writing The End of Eve a couple of weeks after my mom died. I hadn’t been writing much when I was taking care of her because between supporting my kids and breaking up with my partner and worrying about whether my mother would be wielding a knife in the night or if the cancer had spreadâ€”I just didn’t have the time or the emotional head-space. After she died, I knew Iâ€™d write the story, but I figured I could give myself a couple of years. But what happened right away is that I started forgetting. I started sugar-coating all that we’d been through. I started telling myself the things the culture tells us like “death is beautiful” or “everything happens for a reason” or “I must have dreamed that part.”
All my writing life, itâ€™s been important for me to get down the truth of caregiving. It’s like when I was writing about being a single teen mom when I was youngerâ€”it was important to me that my prose not be pastel, not be â€śoh, it is hard sometimes, but this sweet little love-face makes it all worthwhile.â€ť I wanted the reader to hear the baby screaming right through the middle of it.
If I were to start writing it now, I would probably have more perspective, but I wouldnâ€™t have the hard-core truth anymore. I would think, well, everything happens for a reason and Iâ€™m sure it wasnâ€™t that bad or that funny. It wasÂ cancerÂ after all. I mean,Â who talks shit about the dead?
CP: I remember you saying how mad your mom was after you wrote Atlas of the Human Heart. What do you think she would think about this book? Or does it matter anymore?
AG: My mom was livid when Atlas of the Human Heart came out. She hated that book. I’d cleaned up her character wildlyâ€”but she thought that book was a betrayal and an embarrassment. That was traumatic for me. It was one of those times where the huge negative reaction hits so much harder because I was expecting her to be proud of me. She was an artist and a literary person. I mean, she was Henry Miller fan and friend, so I didn’t imagine she’d be shocked. But she thought it was horrifying and shameful and all the things that make you want to crawl back into your hermit cave and never write again.
When I finished the book and Hawthorne Books bought it, I started having these recurring nightmares that my mom wasn’t really dead, that I’d made this horrible mistake and she hated the book and my editor was mad because, well, I’d of course led her to believe my mom was dead. I was haunted by that dream, but over time I learned toâ€”within the dreamâ€”kind of talk myself down and bring back the image of her dead and reassure myself that she was dead. And then, more recently, the last time I had the dream, she was alive and I just didn’t care. She was pissed about the book and I could finally say, “Listen, if being your daughter means I can’t tell the truth about my experience then I’m done with you.”
That said, I actually think she’d like the book. She’d certainly love it if it was about someone else. She wanted to see all the shadows. But she’d even like it knowing it was about her. I wonder if maybe she was so mad about Atlas of the Human Heart because it wasn’t all about her. Maybe she just wanted to be the star. She’s the star of The End of Eve.
CP: You returned to zines this year with #55 of the newly-relaunched Hip Mama because you wanted to make sure it stayed in print. What did laying out your first Hip Mama zine feel like after a 5-year hiatus?
AG: I’d forgotten how time-consuming it was! Or maybe I’m slower nowâ€”working on fogey zine time. But I love it. Making Hip Mama was always one of the things that made me lose track of time. I only want to do work that makes me lose track of time. And it’s sweet how well-received the relaunch issue has been.
CP: You seem really successful at patching together family and feeling and surviving and creating. Any tips for going through care giving and the death for a difficult parent that you wish someone had told you?
AG: To the extent that you can stay focused on behaving in a way that you’ll be proud of, do that. Don’t listen to anyone who says how long someone with a terminal illness will live. They might live a few weeks or they might live years. Statistics are outdated by the time a doctor gives them to you. So don’t plan your life around any made-up timeline. Do what you can, what feels right spiritually and realistic logistically. Don’t be afraid to walk away if it’s too much. It’s ok to say, you know, I did the best with the energy I had right in the moment, and that’s all I can do. Sometimes behaving in a way you’ll be proud of means having a boundary and taking care of yourself, too.
CP: In the book you mention some of the artwork hanging on the walls. Could you tell me more about that painting from Henry Miller? Was your mom his lover?Â
AG: Yes, my mother was Henry Miller’s lover. But he had lots of lovers! Don’t get too excited.Â He painted a watercolor for her in the ’60s. He painted them for a number of his friends in Los Angeles and you see them on eBay sometimesâ€”usually heavy-on-the-blue and personalized.
CP: In the End of Eve you sometimes open up a random book and flip to a page and read a sentence as an oracle. Could you pick up a book and give a reading for us (for the coming year)? Just some all over advice?Â
AG: Maybe it would be apropos to open to a random page of The End of Eve to give you Baltimore’s oracle. How about that? Now it’s a random page, a random sentence, so it might not make much sense, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. Ok? Ready? Oh. Ha. It’s in The End of Eve but the sentence I opened to is actually a quote from the Tibetan yogi Machig Labdron: “Anything you’re attached to, let it go.”Â So, there you have it. Go to the places that scare you.
Ariel Gore will read at Atomic Books on March 21 at 7 p.m.