Writer, editor, activist, and always a thorn in the Christian Right's side, Ariel Gore has managed to turn her own unwed teenage motherhood into an impressive career move. With her mixture of humor and brutal honesty, Gore has scores of fans, mothers and non-mothers alike, who want to read about lives lived by real women today. Though perhaps best known for starting the zine phenom Hip Mama while in college, Gore also wrote the cult classic gen-X parenting guide, The Hip Mama Survival Guide, as well as other alternative parenting collections. Now that her baby has grown up, we wanted to know how a hip mama stays that way in the face of... teenagers! -Alisa Welch

Q. I have to disclose that I am not a mother but I do have three nieces all under the age of 5. I know, it’s not the same thing, but when I baby-sit, I am overwhelmed by the amount of effort it takes to protect the kids from certain death. The world is suddenly filled with low tables and hot coffee, speeding cars, menacing strangers, and cement stairs waiting for a soft head to crack. Thus, my first question: Why do people have children?

A. That's a damn good question. Sometimes I just scream that very question to the heavens. But we have children because it's good for the soul. As gorgeously devastating as it is, having your heart walking around outside your body is good for the soul. Sure cures self-absorption.

Q. At the time you began the Hip Mama zine, did you know other young women in similar situations, i.e. single moms on and off welfare? Was the zine a way to build a community or were you the lone voice in the wilderness?

A. I had a few peers who lived in the same Mills College family housing complex as we did. I had a lot of acquaintances at the welfare office. But part of the magic of Hip Mama was that it actually allowed me to create the community I desperately needed. Motherhood is so isolating, and motherhood outside the mainstream—I was a teen mom, welfare mom, urban mom, college mom—just adds to that sense of isolation. So the zine brought together a lot of lone voices and offered them a platform and a home.

Q. Now that your daughter is a teenager, has your parenting philosophy changed at all?

A. Well, I'm back in day-to-day survival mode. Every day I keep the child alive—or she keeps herself alive—is a good day. That's where I started—when she was a baby I pretty quickly dropped my grand plans for perfect soft fuzzy earth-mama/earth-baby maternity and I was like... keep the baby alive, keep the baby alive... There was sort of a break from that when she was say, age 5 to 11, she seemed heartier and I was getting the hang of the whole motherhood thing. I made a lot of mistakes, but it was possible to do a lot of great things with her beyond survival—touring and making zines and going to protests and dying our hair blue together and talking about philosophy and politics and education. She loved me irrationally and things were hard sometimes, but I had reason to gloat about my fabulous mothering.

Now... well ... for every flaw in me that my daughter didn't see when she was younger, she sees now as this huge and magnified thing. She often thinks I'm a real shit head. More than that she doesn't want me around all the time. So off she goes and I am scared for her. She is a bad-ass, smart young woman. As responsible as one can be at almost 15. But I don't trust the world any further than I can throw it. She trusts the world—as we all did when we were younger—and there's not much I can do but sit home and pray... keep the baby alive, keep the baby alive....

Q. It is encouraging, in this political climate, to read about radical or just plain non-traditional motherhood. Of course some would have us believe that feminism and motherhood are antithetical. How do you reconcile these notions?

A. And tons of people will tell you feminism is altogether dead and blah, blah, blah. There is the problem that feminist reality has become somewhat socially acceptable for single gals, but once we get married or have kids the world kind of says, all right, back to the ironing board for you. And often we go along with it. We move to the suburbs and get on Prozac and try to become some 1950s sitcom mom. They tell us it's best for the children. They tell us we can't "have it all."

And there is always an underlying threat of violence. Two thousand women a year are murdered by their intimate partners in the U.S. alone. According to a Maryland Department of Health study, homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women. So there is this ongoing terrorism that very few people talk about. Having the courage to fight the patriarchy and a government bent on rolling back all of our civil rights is one thing before we have kids because we feel invincible. But motherhood makes us feel extremely vulnerable, so it becomes a lot more difficult to rise to the occasion and rebel. At the same time, as mothers we develop an even stronger sense that the future matters. So that "back to the ironing board" phase doesn't last long.

Q. As a writer, how do you keep the topic of "Motherhood" fresh? How does a piece go from the personal to the universal?

A. There are just so many lies surrounding motherhood. There are so many silences. Just telling the truth of our experience is still a revolutionary act. Sometimes I think, "Why should I publish this thing? It's just my freakin' DIARY." And a few reviews have agreed with that. But my actual readers, my mama-peers, we're all just so hungry for truth. Now, a lot of people ask me if I don't think my daughter has had to pay a price for all my righteous truth-telling, and I used to say "no," but now I see that she has. My family has paid a price because although I'm careful not to disclose anyone else's business, I do write and talk publicly about my business and there is a lot of overlap. It's not the easiest thing in the world to be my kid. But I would have gone crazy if I'd stayed quiet. That isolation that comes with motherhood can lead to psychic death. I think it would have been harder on her to have crazy-psychic-death-mama than to have me.

Q. My multi-tattooed punkrock sister has a child with cerebral palsy. When I told my sister that I would be interviewing you, she said, "I love her books, but ask her why there are never any disabled kids in there!" So, for her, I posit the question to you.

A. Tell her to submit something to me. It's not quite true that there are NEVER... Marcy Sheiner and Sarah Talbot come to mind as mamas who have written for Hip Mama zines and books about mothering disabled kids. But it's true that the experience is underrepresented overall. It's harder to get mamas with more on their plates to write for me—for obvious time and energy reasons—but it's my bad as an editor, too.

Q. No, my bad! If I had been a better researcher, I would have found those essays in Breeder, your collection of essays that same sister lent to me. Anyway, tell me, what does the future hold for Hip Mama and associated ventures?

A. Well, next thing we're starting a church! Welcome to the religious left.


Mothers Issue Features:

{ She's Having a Baby: The Lesbian Gayby Boom }
{ Universal Mother: An Interview With Writer Ariel Gore }
{ All About My Mother: The Greatest Movie Moms }
{ Somebody's Mother: A Photo Essay }
{ Losing the Almighty Mother }
{ A Grandmother's Lament }
{ Are You Going to Eat That? Mother's Cooking }

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