ML: How does this memoir compare to your other published works? Was it a significant change of pace in terms of the tone you wanted to accomplish?
AG: This is by far my most vulnerable book, and in that way I think my best. What I wanted to accomplish when I was writing it was really just that honesty, so I had to convince myself that it would never be published in order to feel like I could tell the whole truth. I couldn’t think about who would read it and how they might judge me. I knew I had done a hard thing taking care of my crazy, beautiful mom when she was dying. I knew it was something people do all the time. But I also knew it was something that there are just so many taboos about—who talks shit about the dead, after all? I had to give myself permission to talk shit about the dead. And of course I had to give myself permission to talk shit about myself. Because I was at my most ragged at so many moments that this memoir covers.
ML: What was the most challenging part of writing this memoir?
AG: I started writing The End of Eve just a couple of weeks after my mom died. From a mental health perspective, I probably should have waited. I had a lot of nightmares. But from an artistic perspective I knew I couldn’t wait. Very soon after my mom died I found myself beginning to sugar-coat the experience. I told myself, well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. That’s when I knew I had to get the story on paper as soon as I could. Part of the reason there are so few stories about the hard and crazy part of caregiving for the dying is that our culture teaches us to “get over it”—which is a kind of forgetting. I didn’t want to forget.
ML: The memoir showcases an intimate look into your personal emotional experience throughout your mother’s illness. Was it challenging to re-face all of those emotions or was it a therapeutic outlet in your healing process?AG: It’s challenging in that you do just want to leave some things behind. Particularly I wanted to forget when I was drunk or weak or heartbroken or hating my dying mother. But I liked reliving the humor of it. I come from a very violent family, and my mother was quite abusive in her ways, but I also come from a lot of humor. We laughed together as a family a lot. We laughed at really dark and fucked up things, mostly, but that was our way of handling the violence and the mental illness. I laughed with my mom as a kind of pressure relief in the most frightening moments. So I liked being able to create a story that’s funny and entertaining. And of course it’s somewhat healing to be able to make some kind of meaningful sense of all the disparate moments of our lives, which is the utility of storytelling.ML: What are your ambitions for the future of your writing career?
AG: Oh, I don’t know. I was just thinking about that the other day and it stressed me out so I started making postcards announcing my next readings for The End of Eve instead.
ML: Throughout your memoir, there is a clear attention to several moments of tension/struggle between you and your mother, yet it is obvious that her well-being was in your very best interest. Do you feel, as tragic as the experience was, that you became closer with your mother in writing this book?
AG: That’s a good question. Honestly, when my mother was alive I felt more compassion for her. She was charming and tiny and always seemed so vulnerable in the world. After she died—when I myself wasn’t just in survival mode anymore—I began to let go of some of that compassion. Other relatives and the few friends who knew the quality of my mother’s violence always told me that she couldn’t help the way she was, and I believed that. But I don’t really believe that anymore. I think if you have a pattern of abuse and it is brought to your attention, you do have the power and the responsibility to change the way that you are. Or, you know, go check yourself into a looney bin where they can restrain you!
ML: Your memoir highlights an extremely common experience countless people share with one another as cancer becomes an increasingly widespread illness. Now having experienced a cancer diagnosis so close to home, have you since become involved in any organizations/volunteering for cancer research?
AG: I can’t say that I have. I hope this book is emboldening and illuminating for people—but it’s also my offering to other people going through what we went through. I think our culture has a collective fantasy that death is always beautiful. That being with our relatives on their deathbeds is a Hallmark card. That caregiving is this saintly thing. And I haven’t found any of that to be true. Do I volunteer for cancer research? I already volunteered. I gave many, many hours to unpaid caregiving, at great expense to my own family.
ML: Did it ever make you feel uncomfortable knowing a wide audience would be having such an intimate look into your personal life as a mother, partner, and caretaker? Or did you enjoy allowing a detailed glimpse into your life for readers?
AG: Oh, I try not to think too much about that part. I hear from readers, and often they do feel a very intimate connection to me, and they are welcome to that, but I’m also a kind of private and introverted person. As a writer, that’s just a paradox you hold.
ML: What is the most significant thing you’ve taken away from the experience with your mother and completion of the memoir? Has it shaped any new outlooks in your life?
AG: As the daughter of a very critical mother, I used to go around feeling very self-conscious all the time. The legacy of our relationship was that I had a lot of anxiety, but that anxiety was self-centered. It felt like I was this horrible person that the world revolved around. I noticed very soon after she died that that feeling began to lift. For the most part, I realize that no one cares what I’m wearing and no one notices what food I’m buying and really people are very anxious about themselves and not paying the least bit of attention to me. It was so freeing when I realized this was happening! It was like a curse was being lifted. At the same time, I could see everyone else’s anxiety, and I began to feel very much more like other people than unlike them. And that was freeing, too. I guess it’s the thing that makes the intimate/confessional quality of memoir easy to tolerate, too, because of course some people are nothing like me and that’s fine, too, but I trust that most people who read my book already know something about love and trauma and nurturance and heartbreak and the violence of life and survival and lust and grief and rage and wanting to behave in a way we’ll be proud of.
Ariel Gore is the publisher of Hip Mama Magazine. Her books include Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness; How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead; The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show; Atlas of the Human Heart; and The Hip Mama Survival Guide. Though she currently lives in Oakland, CA, she spent many years living in Portland, OR with her family. Gore’s fiction and nonfiction work also explores creativity, spirituality, queer culture, and positive psychology.