Ariel Gore's transformation from globetrotting teen to the hippest of mamas reads like a movie script about a Gen-X slacker following her bliss to unlikely success. The plot in a nutshell: While traveling around the world, the scruffy 19-year-old discovers she is pregnant; gives birth to a daughter, Maia, in Europe; returns home a single mother; goes on welfare; launches the feisty parenting zine Hip Mama; scores a major book contract complete with a $100,000 advance; debates House Speaker Newt Gingrich on MTV; launches hipmama.com; gains legions of appreciative fans.
During the busy decade since her daughter's birth, Gore, 30, has also grown from a politically active but engagingly naive teen mom to a well-respected alternative parenting guru. It's not a role she aspired to. 'I always thought of myself as just one mama out there looking for everybody else's opinion,' she says, 'but then I got older and people started listening to what I had to say.' Gore's latest book, The Mother Trip: Hip Mama's Guide to Staying Sane in the Chaos of Motherhood (Seal), firmly establishes her newfound status as an expert in a series of essays on the joys and challenges of raising children. She spoke to senior editor Andy Steiner from her home in Portland, Oregon.
What are your favorite children's books? Do you have any favorites from your childhood?
When I was a kid it was all about Madeline and Babar, then Shel Silverstein, Beverly Cleary, and Judy Blume, and finally Maya Angelou and the diaries of AnaÔs Nin. But, honestly, I didn't read that much as a kid. You always hear about writers being these people who were devouring Shakespeare at age 4, but that wasn't me. I came to writing not as a huge reader, but as someone who had trouble talking and needed another way to express myself. My favorite children's books as a mama have been the works of Dr. Seuss and The Little Prince. For preteens there's Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself by Sabrina Ward Harrison, The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill, and The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton. I also like All Round, an amazing children's magazine out of Denver.
Is there anything you think children shouldn't be allowed to read?
Kids have a hard time processing a lot of sexual content. Narratives that mix sex with violence, or pleasure with punishment, like those in the Bible, are also not cool with me. It's difficult when adult material is packaged as a comic book or marketed to kids, but usually grown-up stuff isn't presented in a way that interests my daughter. TV and other visual media are more difficult, because they draw children in and throw images at them that they may not be able to deal with.
So is there anything on TV that's OK for kids?
I like Doug, on Nickelodeon. Maia likes to watch So Weird and Caitlin's Way, and we sometimes watch Ally McBeal. I wouldn't argue that it's a pro-feminist show, and I know she wears those short skirts and everything, but it's fun and my daughter likes it.
What do you think of Dr. Laura Schlessinger?
I didn't know much about her until my last book tour, when people kept repeating her slogan--'I'm my kid's mom'--as a joke. I didn't get it. So I got her latest book just to educate myself. I couldn't read the whole thing. It was too scary. It's not just that she's praising stay-at-home moms. I could handle that. It's that she's really hateful to everyone else. If you're poor or a single mom or gay or ever had an abortion, that's it for you. You're going to hell.
Where do you get inspiration?From zines, from funny little punk bands that send me their demo tapes, from crazy people who jump in front of you as you're walking down the street, from dreams, from little things that people say. This morning my daughter woke up and told me: 'Every word that you write, every breath that you take, changes your life.' So I take inspiration from everything. We just moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Portland, and I had forgotten how shockingly beautiful everything is when it's unfamiliar, when you have that traveler's disorientation while you are at home.
Which current media trends trouble you?
Marketing is the big bummer. For a long time they were just trying to sell women beauty products, so they had to convince us we were ugly. Now that pharmaceuticals marketing is getting really intense, they have to convince us that we are sick and crazy. The entertainment media is in on it too. I want to see ugly people in movies and on TV. I want to see fat people and quirky people and preschoolers who throw fits and act human.
Are there any media trends that hearten you?
The zine scene is thriving, even though it's over as a big 'news' story. I can go into Reading Frenzy, a bookstore in Portland, spend $10, and have a week's worth of amazing, obscure, totally insane literature and rants. And now that the big venture capital has come and gone from the Internet, things are getting real online. The small publisher's downfall has always been distribution, but on the Internet a teenager from some heartbreakingly small town can publish her diary, pirate radio can be broadcast, 50,000 moms a day can log on to Hip Mama, teen moms can find support, and it's all as accessible as ABC News.
What are you reading now?
Po Man's Child by Marci Blackman. I just turned 30, and the cool thing about turning 30 is that you can pick up a book by someone around your own age without the words very young writer splashed across the cover. I've been reading a lot of fiction and memoirs by people who came of age in the '80s and '90s, like Valencia by Michelle Tea and Cottonmouth Kisses by Clint Catalyst. I still love writers of every generation, but it's refreshing to really get all of the references. I'm also checking my mailbox every day for Banana Yoshimoto's new book, Asleep.
What writers do you most admire?
Michelle Tea, the poet Kenneth Patchen, and the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. I am in awe of the way these people can turn a phrase. Reading their stuff is like having sex.
What magazines do you read?
I read Ms., People, Punk Planet, In These Times, Vogue, The New Yorker, East Village Inky, Resist!, The Future Generation, Bust, Bitch. I also read a lot of zines, and good trashy mainstream stuff.
If you could make one law, what would it be?
I've had it with laws. I'd rather get rid of all the laws. But that would mean we'd all have to come clean, lay down our arms, and start respecting each other.
What's your media diet? Discuss at the Media conference in Cafe Utne: cafe.utne.com