You’ve been quoted calling your new memoir, The End of Eve, “a comedy about domestic violence.” What’s up with that?
When I was working on the book I found it a bit tricky to explain to people what I was doing.
I’m writing about lung cancer!”
“A great project about watching my beautiful, crazy, abusive mom die!”
I must have sounded so depressing. People would go all doe-eyed. So I started saying I was writing a comedy about domestic violence. Well, that didn’t go over so well, either. Because, of course, domestic violence isn’t something to laugh about. But here’s the truth: I grew up in a violent household. My relationship with my mother always included some level of violence. But it also included a lot of humor. Some days, aking my mom laugh was the only way to get her to put down her weapons. It was the only way to get her to drop the drama. And laughter is a real way to relieve tension—that’s not just a quirk of MY family of origin, it is what is true.
So I’m not making light of cancer or dying or of abuse—but what has always been true for me is that the humor of life is the only antidote to the violence of life.
When I’d finished a draft of the book but hadn’t shared it with anyone yet, I had the opportunity to teach at a memoir-writing retreat in Washington state and read an excerpt of the book to an audience of strangers—I wanted to know if they’d have the nerve to laugh in the face of death—if I could give them that permission. And they were howling. So that’s when I knew the book was almost done. If I could make strangers cry from laughing in a book about lung cancer and death, I had succeeded in at least touching on the complexity of it all.
You wrote the book so fast. Why?
I started writing The End of Eve just a couple of weeks after my mom died. I hadn’t been writing much of anything 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 spread, I just didn’t have the time or the emotional space. After she died, I knew I’d write the story, but I figured I’d give myself a few years. But what happened right away is that I started forgetting. I started glossing over or 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 even “I must have dreamed that part.”
All my writing life, it’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 younger—it was important to me that my prose not be pastel, not be “oh, it is hard sometimes, but this sweet little love-face makes it all worthwhile.” I wanted the reader to be able to hear the baby screaming right through the middle of it.
So I wrote the book in a little less than a year.
I sent it to Hawthorne Books and I got the call with the offer on it when I was lighting a candle outside the church in Chimayo, New Mexico, on the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death.
It’s been almost two years now since she died.
And honestly if I were to start writing it now—I would perhaps have more perspective—but I wouldn’t have the hard-core truth anymore. I would think, well, you know, everything happens for a reason and I’m sure it wasn’t that bad or that funny. It was cancer after all. I mean, she died. Who talks shit about the dead?
Isn’t the book also a love story?
I think so. I wanted to call it “On the Mend,” but maybe that should be the sequel. It’s the story of taking another look at what I’d always been taught to call love.
Because waiting for love isn’t love.
This isn’t a question from me, but it was a question my mom asked me before she died. She asked me: Is memoir-writing a way to express anger or a way to pay tribute?
At the time I told her, “probably both.” But in reality I think it’s something bigger than that. Ideally, the people you write about in a memoir won’t read it. That’s not who it’s for. Memoir isn’t about processing our relationships with one another. It’s about integrating the enormity of everything. It’s about taking the traumatic, disparate moments of life that are kind of scattered around us and sewing them back together into something beautiful that maybe emboldens people who are going through the same thing—which we all are—because the “same thing” is life and it’s hard and fucked up and delicious.
The only goal I had when I agreed to take care of my mom was to behave in a way that I’d be proud of. And some days I did and some days I didn’t and I wanted to write this book not as tribute or an exposé, but as something else, as, Hey, this is who I am and this is what I tried to do and you might try to do the same thing one day and I have an idea that if I tell you—some stranger who lives on the planet with me—the story, it might break us both out of our self-consciousness and isolation.
Do you have a good pie recipe?
I thought you’d never ask.
I like a simple, classic crust—a Joy of Cooking crust. But the thing I like best about pie is that it’s not an exact science. Other baking projects, man, you mis-measure one little thing and you’re sunk. But pie crust is forgiving.
All your ingredients should be ice-cold: mix together 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (you can swap in a gluten-free flour blend and you’ll be fine) and a ½ teaspoon salt. Cut in a cup of butter or vegetable shortening. Now you want to add ice water—you’ll add about ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons, but you’ll add it one tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork, until the dough holds together.
If you’re making an apple pie, you ought to add some sharp grated cheddar cheese to your crust.
But I think we ought to make peach pie.
Separate your dough into two balls and stick it in the refrigerator for a few hours—up to a couple of days. It’ll be enough for two pies or one with a nice lattice top.
For this peach pie, you’ll want about 7 ripe peaches—that’s about 7 cups peeled and sliced—because 7 is our lucky peach pie number. You’ll want the juice of a lemon, a cup of sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. You’ll also want, say, 4 tablespoons of Minute Tapioca or potato starch. Toss all that together in a bowl.
Now, situate one of your oven racks real low and preheat to 500. Roll out one of your dough balls on a floured surface and then kind of set it into your pie pan and mold it ‘til it’s right.
And fill that with your peach mixture.
Roll and cut your other ball of dough into strips to make a nice lattice. Your lattice doesn’t have to be anything to look at. Just weave the pieces of dough together with the same attitude you had when you were a kid and you used to make daisy chains. You can also make your lattice ahead of time and freeze it, then just kind of lay it on top of your pie and crimp the edges.
Lower your oven temperature to 425, bake your pie for 25–30 minutes, rotate it and reduce your temperature to 375 and bake for another 25–30 minutes.
Now just let it cool for a couple of hours.
Life is rough sometimes, but making a pie is a way to concentrate; to take some time out as you withstand the times of learning. Any kind of cooking—it becomes a way to take respite from the big world of death and meanness into this smaller kitchen-world where things make sense, where if we gather the right ingredients and have the patience, things turn out pretty much the way we think they will.
Pretty much, anyway.
Something to share with a pal. Or I guess, you know, yourself.
ARIEL GORE is the editor and publisher of Hip Mama, the original alternative parenting magazine, and the author of seven other books of fiction and nonfiction that endeavor, each in their way, to tell the truth about love, violence, creativity, and caregiving. She teaches writing online at LiteraryKitchen.com and peddles zines at Hipmamazine.com. Based in Santa Fe for the past four years, she and her extended queer post-hipster family are headed back home to Oakland, Calif. Her new memoir, The End of Eve, was published by Hawthorne Books this month.