We Were Witches by Ariel Gore. Reading and Interview with Miriam Sagan at Collected Works, Saturday 9/9 at 6 pm

Very excited to be interviewing Ariel about her new novel at Collected Works. Please join us! Here is a preview.

Why did you decide to consider WITCHES a “novel” rather than a kind of magical realism “memoir.”? Was it to give yourself a more spacious approach? Do the genres seem to blur?

I did start out thinking of it as a magical memoir, but in the end I think I pushed through too many of walls of what we call memoir. The genres blur completely, and in the end I guess the idea was that “novel” could hold all the hybridity. One review said that by calling it a novel I was saying that I was giving my art, not myself–and I liked that. I thought, Ah, I’m going to call everything a novel from here going forward, because I very much like giving my art.

Despite the deconstruction of life not having the same curve of resolution as fiction, in many ways the book is inspiring! Do you realize that now? Was it written innocently, or with a sense that redemption was coming—i.e. the heroine triumphs both structurally and actually?

I tried so hard to make it a tragedy, to really end on a sense of failure, to say, look failure is fine — all of the anti-Hollywood-ending things I could think of. But the problem is that we’re happy. The problem is that on our terms, we never failed. We don’t have the financial security some people might have, and we’re not married to men — those “happily ever afters” aren’t our lives, but I realized that when you completely invert the traditional plot structure, you still end up on the other side of it. Do you know what I mean? Like when you’re in the ocean and there’s a huge wave coming, and you’re out too far to run, you have to decide to go over it or under it. We went under it. The people who told me I had to conform to their ideas of motherhood and womanhood were full of shit, and their lives were different than mine, but they weren’t any easier. The world wasn’t any kinder to them for playing by the rules.

There is so much negative dialogue about so-called single or teen mothers in our society. The central strength the protagonist has in terms of philosophical resources is feminism. I love the reading list, and the amazingly refreshing look at The Scarlet Letter. Would you consider this to be second wave feminism or something else? The roots of feminist spirituality seem more west coast than east—is location a factor? The title of the book points to that core of identity and power. Thoughts on this?

The waves of feminism actually always confused me. We have been here always. But the time and place where I lived when Maia was a baby, the time and place in which this novel takes place,  was–like all times and places—this unique Zeitgeist. When I landed in Sonoma County in 1990, I had no idea what that meant. In the same way that arriving here now in Santa Fe, I have not idea what that’s going to end up meaning. But what it meant to be in Sonoma County in 1990 was that the women who made the Motherpeace Tarot lived up there. Mary TallMountain was my neighbor. We had Sonoma County Women’s Voices, the oldest continually-published women’s newspaper in the country, and they took  me in even though I could hardly speak I was so shy. For all of the shit feminists got for being anti-child, they are the ones who took me in. And their books took me in. So I lived my daily life in the welfare lines and college classes and on the streets of this suburb where a lot of old-school yahoos hated me, but magic was afoot. There were these incredible, multi-generational post-hippie feminist outsider spaces—both physical spaces and published spaces. When the yahoos ran me out of town and I ended up in Oakland, this complete revolution around queer identity was happening. So, again, my day-to-day life was often dealing with a homophobic, anti-mother family court system and getting buried in student loans, but the sense of magic and social engagement around me made everything feel expansive, too.

And — totally — I think West Coast feminism always included the spiritual. It’s something that has been very mocked, and I’ve certainly joined in on some of that mocking, but cynicism isn’t really getting us anywhere. I think lefties need to start finding ways they feel comfortable praying.

I love that you like my reading of the Scarlet Letter. I didn’t know it was weird! That book is a trip, but I don’t know how they usually talk about it in English Lit.

I think a lot of the authors on the reading list are considered second wave, and for sure part of my work with this book was to pay tribute to them, to acknowledge how many women and gender queers I’m standing on the shoulders of. I think a lot of people would be emboldened right now to read their bell hooks, and their Audrey Lorde, and their Adrienne Rich, and their Tillie Olsen, and their Leslie Feinberg, and their Ntozake Shange, and their Susie Bright, and their Gloria Anzaldua, and their Judith Butler, and their Diane Di Prima, and their Walt Whitman. Some of the words mean different things now, but there are some deep strategies illuminated in those books. I’m building my apocalypse library.

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You can build yours, too. Start with:

Muffy McPherson by Ariel Gore

Muffy McPherson
 
Muffy McPherson lives across the street. Her house has two stories and a swimming pool in the back yard.
Muffy McPherson has a pink canopy over her bed and a Barbie Dream House under her bedroom window.
In her back yard, behind the pool, Muffy McPherson has a big red playhouse with a Barbie oven in it. We wear red-and-white-checked aprons and we pretend to make chocolate chip cookies. When we’re done we go inside and Muffy McPherson’s mother has made us real chocolate chip cookies that cool on a tray on an island in the middle of the kitchen. That’s what it’s called when you have a counter in the middle of your kitchen that you can walk all the way around—an island.
Muffy McPherson doesn’t come over to my house to play and I’m glad—my mother wouldn’t make us cookies and if my stepdad did, they’d have carob chips that he bought in bulk from the Briarpatch co-op market and then he might take out his teeth.
Muffy McPherson’s mother wears a lavender leisure suit and she uses real chocolate and she never takes out her teeth. Muffy’s father goes to work in the morning and doesn’t come home until dinnertime. He’s important because he invented something called “collagen implants” that makes skinny people fat in the just right places.
Muffy McPherson is in love with Harrison Ford.
It’s not a crush. It’s true love.
“I’m going to marry him,” she says. And she dances across her pink-canopied bed, swishing her straight blonde hair back and forth.
My hair is dark and curly and I know there’s not much I can do about it, but I think maybe if I had a pink canopy over my bed, I wouldn’t feel so scared all the time.
“I have a poster of Harrison Ford,” I tell Muffy.
“You do?” She stops moving, stares at me.
“Yeah,” I say. “You can have it.” I shrug, cool as I know how.
She nods real slow and I can’t believe I actually have something Muffy McPherson wants. It makes me feel calm and powerful at the same time, like maybe we’re not so different, Muffy and me. Like maybe even with my hair, I can be one of the pretty people when we go back to school in September.
 
The next day I come back with my poster of Harrison Ford, rolled up all nice. It’s not actually my poster, I stole it from Leslie, stole it right off her wall, but I’ve already practiced my denial, practiced the blank look on my face when I’ll claim I don’t know what happened to the poster.
Muffy McPherson’s mother answers the door and calls upstairs to Muffy. I bound up those soft stairs, close the door to Muffy’s room behind me and begin to unfurl the poster.
Muffy McPherson’s face is all thrill at first, but then she frowns. “That’s not Harrison Ford,” she scowls, then squints her eyes at the picture. “That’s. Some. Old Man!”

“It isn’t?” I look at it. Harrison Ford. The guy who’s Doctor Doolittle in the movie.

Muffy McPherson clenches her teeth and crosses her arms and shakes her head, her hair swishing a little. “That’s Rex Harrison. It says so right there.” She points her thin finger to the signature at the bottom corner of the poster. “REX Harrison,” she says again. “Are you stupid? Do you know even know who Harrison Ford is?”

I look at the poster, at Rex Harrison with his side burns and sly smile, and then at Muffy McPherson with her long blonde hair and stern look. I roll up the poster. I glance at the Barbie Dream House behind Muffy and I already miss playing with the Ken doll. I swallow hard. I say, “Yeah, I know who Harrison Ford is. I just. I was only kidding.” And I feel something in the back of my throat that’s hot and sore, like a coal from the campfire that got stuck there. And I don’t know who Harrison Ford is.

I don’t know who Harrison Ford is.

Ariel Gore’s Writing Workshops in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Writers Workshops
Your Writing Studio in Northern New Mexico

THE LANGUAGE OF YOUR LIFE: True Tales and Likely Stories
July Morning Intensive meets July 19 – 23, 10 a.m. to Noon
August Evening Intensive meets August 9 – 13, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Second St. Studios, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Ignite your creative life, find your voice as a writer, create fresh material…even get started on a book project.
An intense, week-long writing workshop for beginning and advanced writers interested in fashioning stories from their own lives. We will meet each day at a small writing studio in Santa Fe to write together and critique each other’s work (stories offered for critique may be written earlier or generated during this intensive). This supportive and inspiring group is appropriate for writers at all levels–limited to 10, so please register early. email arielgore at earthlink dot net with any questions.
* The writing studio is located in The Second Street Studios — Seven Sisters, 1807 Second St. #32, Santa Fe, NM
If you are coming from out of town, note that the studio is walking distance (about a half mile) from Santa Fe’s International Hostel on Cerrillos Rd. (http://hostelsantafe.com) and several funny little motels.
Cost: $200 ($50 deposit is nonrefundable. Remaining $150 is due at the first meeting.)

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santafewritersworkshops.com

Thinking About: Ariel Gore’s BLUEBIRD: Women & Happiness

I like reading about happiness. I’m always curious about what makes our moods tick. So I was excited to see Ariel Gore’s new book BLUEBIRD: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). I loved her work as editor of HIP MAMA and as a novelist and author of the excellent HOW TO BECOME A FAMOUS WRITER BEFORE YOU’RE DEAD.
I was raised by Marxists who were also Freudians–a curious mix. On the one hand, we believed that happiness came from concrete circumstances while on the opposite we felt psychological change was ours to have. BLUEBIRD was a relief to read because it included society and real circumstances rather than being a mega-church view of mind over matter. But I also appreciated that attitude does make a difference–that we live in a dialectical flow. I asked Ariel Gore if she had any further thoughts on this now now that the book was out in the world.
She said: “That’s the most complex thing I tried to deal with in the book. The whole idea that ‘you create your own reality’ can be so offensive when it comes from a place of narcissism and marketing nonsense (i.e. you can BUY your own reality!) But then of course there’s also truth to it–I decided to focus on my own happiness and, interestingly, my happiness seemed to bloom.

Still, I’m not going to beat myself over the fact that I don’t seem to have the Jedi-mind power to cure cancer or get my grown kid to stay in school or get FOX News off the air.

I can kill my own television, though. That’s something that made me happy! That got FOX News out of my air–and it hasn’t made me feel under-informed.

So… intention, action, creativity, mental adventures, resistance, and television-killing.”

This made sense to me, particularly as I’m often asked by students, “how can I find more time to write?” I usually suggest: stop watching television. People usually resist this, but I think happiness partially consists of having a barrier between ourselves and run amok consumer society. Plus for writers, more time equals happiness.

BLUEBIRD is being very well-received. It had a nice write-up in the “New York Times Book Review” and numerous readers are writing Gore to say what clicked for them about the book. The only real surprise is that people persist in equating money and happiness, what Gore characterizes as “this persistent and wacky idea that we need more money in order to be happy. I wrote about money in the book some, but it is clear from all the research, and a lot of us know from experience, that unless we are dealing with real survival anxiety, there just isn’t a huge correlation between money and happiness.

Still, a lot of what I’ve heard from journalists is, ‘C’mon, we’re in the middle of a recession here. Americans can’t afford to be happy right now.’

And I’m like, ‘Wait! Happiness is supposed to be one of the free things. Like love. Like creativity.’

But then of course when I write about creativity, there are a lot of people who say that’s a privilege, too.

I reject that.

Just because happiness has been commodified doesn’t mean that it’s a commodity. Creativity, love, happiness–those aren’t luxury items.’

One thing I really enjoyed about BLUEBIRD is that it had exercises–keeping a journal, focusing on mindfulness (while truly enjoying doing the laundry), and something called “The Fuck You Fund”–enough money to walk away from a destructive or dysfunctional situation. I’ve always kept a stash of cash called The Emergency Fun Fund” so I appreciated this other option (although mine is less for quitting a job than for an unexpected encounter with a Navajo rug auction.)

I asked Gore if she was happier since she wrote the book.

Her response: “You know, I am happier — it’s a funny thing. It’s just been about prioritizing happiness, and about saying, ‘OK, happiness might be really uncool, but it tastes better than cigarettes.’

I don’t do the things I talked about and tested out in the book religiously, but I’ve used the happiness journal on and off. And the mental laundry trick!

Since I wrote the book, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, my daughter took a “leave of absence” from college and, well, there’s been a lot of anxiety and grief available–but it’s in those experiences when the knee-jerk reaction is worry and suffering that I think we can see most clearly our basic contentment. It comes back to a deeper definition of happiness–the ability to rejoice in the midst of suffering or remembering–as Marion Milner points out in A Life of One’s Own–that happiness is different from pleasure in that happiness can hold both the pain of losing and the pleasure of discovering.”

I really enjoyed the book–it is one I’d happily lend to a friend and certainly suggest you buy at your local independent bookstore. In Santa Fe, start with Collected Works bookstore on Galisteo Street. Or go to http://www.arielgore.com for on-line ordering.