When I was 28 and kid-less my friend Kaile lent me a copy of Ariel Gore’s, Atlas of a Human Heart. Kaile, by then a mom of a toddler and a newborn, taught me about why you buy a fish tank net for your homebirth, the hip mamas and a new (to me) context for the word breeder. Previously, she had given me an immersive course in motherhood and the family you create while we both lived in nearby Chicago neighborhoods.
I had just moved back to my hometown from living in Chicago and my first failed marriage. It was 2003 and I was tutoring kids PT while staying at my parents’ house (watching their marriage crumble) in a suburb of Orlando. I was falling in love with the future father of my 2 children, while enjoying the freedom of minimal responsibilities. Kaile was temporarily living with her partner and 2 children at her in-law’s home in another suburb of Orlando, helping care for her mother in law who was dying of cancer. We were sharing meals, holding babies and building dinosaur worlds in the backyard. We were talking about mortality, gender roles and primary caregiving. We were building my foundation of motherhood. (though I didn’t realize it at the time)
There was time for reading and I was devouring Gore’s memoir about her teen years squatting throughout Europe and becoming a mom. My life experiences, up to that point, did not resemble Gore’s but I felt connected to her sentiments, words and thoughts. I was awed by the adventure, the LIVING Gore had done, while simultaneously shaming myself for the fear I allowed to stifle my own living. But in the afterglow of reading Atlas of a Human Heart, I had hope I could make a quick about change and start living better. Or, more adventurously, which I had deemed, “better.” I thought Gore would likely understand. Fourteen years later, I am sure she would.
We Were Witches picks up where Atlas of a Human Heart left off, with Gore and her baby returning home to the states and beginning to carve out their own option for life. Using witchcraft she learns from a neighborhood botanica, Gore manifests her acceptance into Mills College. Hoping education will free her from a path of suburban motherhood, she studies the works of bell hooks, Audrey Lorde and Adrienne Rich; whispering them as bedtime stories to her baby daughter. In the family housing of Mills College, Gore teaches herself a new definition of motherhood than the one handed down to us by our mothers – the one that relies on shaming for the survival of capitalist society. “Maybe what shame requires to stay alive is the consent of the shamed.”
Ariel Gore writes in the acknowledgements of We Were Witches that she began writing the book with “no clear idea” of where she was going with it. An organic, wandering and compelling course that feels deliberate by the end is a hallmark of Gore’s writing. We Were Witches follows suit with a storyline focused on shame, particularly shame passed down to women and mothers, and finding one’s way beyond it through feminism and witchcraft. It is an autobiographical story of doing whatever you want and re-authoring the fairy tales handed to us.
We Were Witches is a story without a climax and, in a way, without a denouement. It is a meandering story whose words get inside your head and live there. But as Gore herself points out, “we can overcome without Freytag’s pyramid – it just feels different than we expected.”
Publication Date: 09-12-17