Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today's leading writers. All episodes—hundreds of them—are available for free. Listen via iTunes, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, or right here on the web. Better yet: download the Otherppl with Brad Listi app. Available for iPhone and Android. Free! If you'd like to support the show, you can do so via Patreon or Paypal.
To subscribe to Brad Listi's email newsletter, click here.
IT’S ALL MY FAULT
What’s it like to be the mother of a young writer whose successful autobiographical work describes things like her enjoyment of being punched in the face during sex, starving herself, and smoking crack?
Well, as you might imagine, I have mixed feelings about it. I feel guilty and I feel proud; but then I feel that way about all four of my children. Each one of them is a mystical stew whose successes are their own and whose failings are all my fault.
ALL THE CHILDREN ARE INSANE (and probably you are, too!)
I’ve done the best I can as a mother, and I’ve learned some things. One of them is that your children will probably be about as fucked up as you are.
Most of us try to do better than our parents, but I’m sorry to tell you that parenting is hard and evolution is not on your side.
Suppose I’m 35 percent fucked-up. I think it’s realistic to hope that any one of my children, in a good situation with no war or famine, might hope to be only 32 percent fucked up. That’s pretty good. I improved them by 3 percent! If every parent on earth could do that, we’d all be perfect in a scant few generations.
The glitch is that it’s hard to tell exactly in what ways your children will be fucked-up. It’s a safe bet, though, that whatever problems your child struggles with will be exactly the kinds of problems that you have the least skill in dealing with.
If you have any children at all, it’s a good sign that you’re optimistic enough to think you’ll do a better job than your parents. I know I think I’ve done a better job than mine.
Did I mention that Mira is not the only crazy person in our family?
My grandfather was a communist who went to jail for terrorism. He tried to burn down a bank.
My parents were hippies. They were slutty and took drugs. My mother went out with Jim Morrison, which she will tell you about until you want to vomit—or at least until I want to vomit.
My mother’s reaction to Mira’s book1 was infuriating and bizarre. She was angry at me! Not because of worry for Mira, but because she felt embarrassed. Her old friend Viva Hoffmann (who was an Andy Warhol ‘superstar’ and is the mother of actress Gaby Hoffmann from Girls) read my mother one of Mira’s poems from an issue of Vice magazine. I think my mother felt that Viva was taunting her. (They’re always bickering.)
My mother claimed that she thought Mira wrote poems about flowers!
Now, I know my mother has done a thousand things worse than anything Mira has ever done, and who really gives a shit anyway, but it was a shock to hear her being so prude and so hypocritical.
My mother was angry because Mira didn’t keep her secrets. She was embarrassed because Mira told what can happen in the dark. But couldn’t we all tell a grotesque and true story about ourselves if we were brave enough?
YOUR CHILDREN WILL TAKE DRUGS AND HAVE SEX, TOO
I don’t know how much experimenting with drugs and sex is okay for a person. It seems to me that everyone should try at least a little.
Is it wrong for a mother to say that?
I try not to dictate to anyone, but being a straight-edge-virgin-for-life sounds unbelievably sad to me. There are so many ways that the world asks you to be a lying hypocrite to your kids, from Santa Claus to drugs and sex.
It horrifies me to read about my daughter’s bad relationships. Yet I know from personal experience that having some bad relationships teaches you to appreciate the good qualities in a partner that you might otherwise have taken for granted…
I WILL KILL THAT FUCKING BRO
Wait. Now I sound like I’m arguing that it’s okay with me for Mira to have this face-punching sex situation with some dude. Not true. My wrath is limitless, and I will probably kill this fucking bro even though Mira said it was ‘consensual.’
You heard it here first. I’m probably going to go to jail for murder—but I’ll still be a good mother if my children are improved by 3 percent!
I’m good at rationalizing my daughter’s writing, and it was a surprise to me that some friends of mine were not.
When Mira’s book was published, all the craziest people I know called me up to express concern about her. One particular friend who is a ‘punk legend’ seemed especially disturbed. He had good intentions, but his attitude struck me as lacking introspection. Didn’t he remember how he had experimented with violence? When he and his punk rock cohorts were scary? When they broke the rules? When they physically hurt people, just to try it out?
My husband, Chuck Dukowski, of Black Flag fame and a punk rock ‘legend’ himself, has been one of Mira’s biggest champions. He said: ‘What happened to irreverence? All these old men being ‘punk’ with their furrowed brows and sour faces. They look like they’re yelling ‘Get off my lawn!’ They didn’t invent being controversial and scary.’
Controversy in art has been around for a long time, but it’s mostly been a man’s game. I think of the Velvet Underground songs ‘Heroin’ and ‘Venus in Furs.’ Lou Reed took his flaws and made beautiful art out of them. He also died of liver damage—so that’s something to consider, too.
I don’t feel like an ‘edgy’ person. I actively try to be nice! I love children! But if I’m honest, it’s not really a shock to me that my daughter has found a way to freak everybody out, including me.
Is it okay for us as a culture and for me as a mother to enjoy art that is both sexy and disturbing? To enjoy art that is essentially female—even in its ugliness? Sometimes it seems like we’ve only just gotten to the place as a society where we can get past the controversy that women dare make art at all.
So in conclusion, yeah, I’m probably a bad mother, go ahead and judge me, I’m sorry. I feel guilty even though I’ve earnestly tried my best.
Also, don’t take cocaine. It turns you into a giant douchebag.
1 i will never be beautiful enough for us to be beautiful together, now available from Sorry House.