A Conversation with Eve Ensler About Loving Your Tree

What better way to find sanctuary than to become it?

| January-February 2005

A long time ago, my mother made a casual remark that if she were to have plastic surgery anywhere, it would be on her hands, where the veins bulge and the skin broadcasts its age unmistakably. As I watch my fingers move across my computer keyboard, I look at my hands and see my mother’s. But I also remember walking in the woods a few years back on a bracing, wet day, colors and shapes in sharp relief. I was focused on the next step, on not tripping in the web of tree roots, when I suddenly recognized that the veins in my hands looked just like the roots at my feet.

Something shifted in me the day that I saw veins as tree roots. I started seeing stretch marks in rivulets skimming the sand, cellulite in cloud formations. In her book Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams describes dunes: “Wind swirls around the sand and ribs appear. There is musculature in dunes. And they are female. Sensuous curves—the small of a woman’s back. Breasts. Buttocks. Hips and pelvis. They are the natural shapes of earth. Let me lie naked and disappear.”

These days, at age 50, I am slightly obsessed with the variety and beauty of tree bark, by the fact that the smoothness of a sapling is no more beautiful than the ridges and folds in the bark of a mature tree.

That’s why I was so struck by The Good Body, a new one woman show by Eve Ensler (of The Vagina Monologues fame). In one particularly powerful scene, Ensler asks the character Leah, a 74-year-old African woman, if she loves her body. “Oh, yes,” answers Leah. She describes what she loves about her body, including the moons on her fingernails. She goes on to point to one tree and then another. “Eve, is one of those trees more beautiful than another? You must love all the trees, and you must love your tree.”

This affirmation of variety in beauty is juxtaposed against other vignettes in the play: women who sap their power and joy with their bodily self-loathing, with dieting and plastic surgery, women like all of us in the audience who laugh and weep with recognition. Particularly when Ensler exposes her stomach—the particular locus of her sense of shame—which she says is the most “glorious” part of each performance, because “it represents all of me in my complexity.”

On the day after I saw the show in November, I talked with Eve, the two of us curled on either end of a red couch in her Manhattan apartment, which is simultaneously a womb and an aerie, both peaceful and fiery, an apt reflection of Eve herself. I asked her what role spirituality plays in her life. She told me that she spent a year going to churches and temples and every other kind of place spiritual practice was going on, finding herself drawn to aspects of Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. Ultimately, she found all monotheism antifeminist because, she asks, “With one god, are women ever included in the agenda?”

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