Mother’s Day is when advertising distills motherhood down to home-cooked brunch, a bracelet, or a fragrant bouquet. But for far too many people, the relationship with their mom is a complicated one. Not all mothers have been nurturing and caring; not all daughters and sons have overcome the trauma of their childhoods as adults. There can be a lot of love in a mother-child relationship, but also a deep well of pain. That’s why The End Of Eve: A Memoir, by Ariel Gore, is the perfect antidote to Mother’s Day.
Several years ago, Gore, who is the editor of Hip Mama magazine, was happily in a relationship with her partner and raising a college-aged daughter and a toddler son, when she got some news. Her narcissistic, emotionally abusive mother, Eve, announced she had cancer.
So, Gore and her family picked up their lives and moved to spend the last couple of years caring for Eve — who, in turn, made everyone’s lives difficult in every possible way, like reporting Gore and her partner to Child Protective Services for (nonexistent) child abuse. But Gore was dedicated to both caring for her sick mom and trying to keep her relationship with her girlfriend together.
As a memoirist, Ariel Gore is gifted: she is able to tell a heartbreaking story of illness and betrayal with the perfect mix of respect, humor and irreverence. I called Gore at home to talk about The End Of Eve, which I absolutely devoured. Our conversation is after the jump!
So, the story of your mom’s illness and death is intensely personal. How did you make the decision to share your story and your family’s story publicly?
Well, probably as soon as my mom got sick I kind of knew that I would write about it. It was a really hard time and it was kind of like when shit would get super crazy, that silver lining was like, Well, this is a good story. The rad thing about being a writer or an artist of any kind is there’s always that. You can be, like, well, this is really the worst thing that has ever happened to me but it’s a good story. … [W]hen [her illness] turned out to be super intense and to go on for so long, I thought I’d probably wait longer to write about it.
Then what happened is that just a few weeks after she died, I found myself sort of cleaning out my memory and kind of being like oh, well, it wasn’t that bad or it wasn’t that intense or this or that little thing couldn’t have possibly happened quite like that, the way you do with a lot of things. But I think the way I was always trained to deal with my mom who was fairly abusive, was to [doubt myself] — she would say it didn’t happen, or I would be like oh yeah, it probably didn’t happen quite like that, or it didn’t happen that often. You know, things like that. So that’s when I was, like, ok, I have to write this book right now while my memory feels very trustworthy.
Was the rest of your family supportive of you writing so intimately about their lives? What did your ex-girlfriend think? Your daughter seems like she was incredibly supportive through, everything. You sound like you have an awesome daughter.
Thank you. Yeah, she’s rad. My ex-girlfriend wasn’t around when I was writing it, but just out of an abundance of respect, I gave her a copy before I sent it to my editor and she apparently opted not to read it, so I can’t help her. If she doesn’t like the way she’s depicted after it’s published, it’s not my problem because she had a copy. So, she wasn’t unsupportive. … So, she was sort of neutral. And then the only other family member who’s living who was in it a lot was my sister. She’s just kind of accustomed to the fact that I write about my life and she’s sort of accustomed to the fact that I sort of make fun of her a little bit, so she’s a good sport, too.
One thing I admired about the book is how you’re very clear about the fact that how your mother was abusive. A lot of it is verbal and psychological abuse, which is not what a lot of people consider “abuse.” People seem to think abuse is just physical violence, although you mention that as well. In your adult life, your mom was mostly emotionally and verbally abusive. Were you always at that place where you could label her behavior? Or did it take you a while to be able to name it?
I teach memoir writing and I certainly know a lot about other people’s lives and that my mother’s particular brand of abuse was less physical than what a lot of people grow up with. She was very small, and so even when she was physically abusive, by the time I was 11 or 12, I was bigger than she was. So that’s the way a lot of her behavior kind of got written off [by others] as like “Who could she harm? She’s tiny,” and yet she created chaos in many, many people’s lives. It’s so interesting the way that culturally and familially we’re trained to accept all kinds of abuse and there’s always some excuse for it. It’s either “well, it wasn’t that violent” or “you don’t have any physical scars” or whatever.
But if somebody’s behavior causes your adrenaline to go up unnecessarily, or if the way that someone behaves would be completely unacceptable if they treated your children that way, then it’s abusive. And I hope that the memoir doesn’t come off like wah wah, I was abused. But I think it’s fair enough to call it that if someone is unnecessarily creating chaos in other people’s lives.
No, your story doesn’t come off at all as complaining. I mean, you would be well within your rights to complain! But what I loved about your book is that you’re able to write about pain, disrespect and betrayal very humorously. What’s your secret to being able to find the humor, even if it’s dark humor?
I definitely come from a family that has a lot of violence in it, but I also come from a family that had a lot of humor. That was the way that we sort of took the edge off within the family. Then also, as my role, I was the youngest child. so I was kind of the clown. That was the way to kind of get my mom to put her weapon down or to stop being so intense — to get her to laugh. That tool, it’s developed out of need, but it’s certainly served me well in life to be able to find the humor in the dark places. That’s definitely something that I got from my family of origin, too. My mom could laugh in the face of death, also, if she wasn’t wringing your neck. So that was always the fun part of my family.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from other readers so far? I imagine you are hearing from a lot of children who have mothers like yours.
It’s been amazing, It’s interesting that so many mothers are like that, you know? I don’t know if it’s generational or just archetypical through time. There’s this high level of narcissism. … I used to think like, you know, in a different generation, my mom just wouldn’t have had kids and that would have, I think, worked out a little better for her and for us to be dropped into a different family who actually wanted them. But I don’t know if that’s true.
But there is sort of this very common experience of having a super-narcissistic mom, and motherhood and narcissism are a bad combination. You may be able to do some jobs really well —like my mom was a visual artist also and the narcissism didn’t seem to conflict with that as much as it did with motherhood where you really have to put yourself aside, especially I think if you’re the mother of daughters. Like when my daughter started to become a teenger, there is this moment where you’re like Oh my God, you’re more beautiful than I am and you have all the attributes that the culture considers valuable now, I’m so jealous of you, and then you know you have to just nip that in the bud and be like you know what, that’s not my role as a mom, she gets to be the teenager now and it’s actually really hard to be a teenager so she doesn’t need a jealous mother on top of that.” Do you know what I mean? So — I don’t know what the question was!
Haha, well, I asked if you’re getting a lot of people reaching out to you, saying, “I relate to this”? It sounds like you’re saying you are.
Yes, that’s what I was getting at. Even if people’s experience isn’t exactly the same … [A]lso, so many people are caring for their parents at the end of life, so even if they don’t have as complicated a relationship, I think that people have found it really refreshing to feel like someone’s not sugarcoating the experience. It’s not like oh, hospice is beautiful. It’s like well, you know there’s obviously beautiful moments and that’s often what survives in our memory, but it’s ugly. Death is ugly. Dying is really intense. And no matter what your relationship with your parent is, if you’re their caregiver, there is some part of that relationship that’s flipped. It’s your parent, they’re supposed to be your caregiver and now you’re feeding them with a tiny spoon. So even if the relationship isn’t this complicated, I think there’s something universal that people are relating to.
Can you see ways in which your own mom has positively affected how you are as a mother? From the way you write about your own parenting in the book, you seem like you’re very nurturing and thoughtful — which is the opposite of her.
In terms of the straight-up mothering part of it, it’s mostly been kind of like a cautionary tale. Like, I can see how hard it is on kids to be treated like shit and to have someone never apologize them and to just expect them to forget when you’ve lost it in front of them. Obviously, I’m not a perfect mother by any stretch of the imagination. But I have worked really hard to transcend the legacies of abuse in my own family. So, there’s that.
Besides growing up in what I’m talking about, an abusive household, I also grew up in a very artistic household and a very intellectual household. So I try to bring that to my parenting too in terms of the positive stuff. You know, like if bad shit happens, you make beautiful art. Or ugly art! You know, whatever! It’s cool!
Let’s talk about your alternative parenting magazine. I’m not as familiar with Hip Mama because it’s not my demographic, but what’s going on with that?
I just relaunched it. … I published it and edited it for 15 years, and then I had a five-year kind of break when my son was born and my mom got sick, and I just had too much kind of caregiving stuff to put out my caregiving zine. So then last year when the people who had been publishing it in the interim ran out of steam and money and were going to perhaps have to go completely digital. I did a Kickstarter campaign and saved the print version.
So the first issue where it was back in my care came out in February, and I’m just working on the second issue now, it’s actually the -Issue #55 I think. I started it 20 years ago, which is funny. It’s as weird as saying I have a 24-year-old daughter. It’s like, wow! I’m old!
The End Of Eve: A Memoir by Ariel Gore is available now.