Many of chapters in your memoir are so detailed, especially the memories from your childhood. Did you record a lot of your experiences while you were living them— or was there more mental recollection involved in compiling this work?
Interview questions from Rachel Curry for the Northwestern Triquarterly
Susie: It’s funny you say that because I think my memory is terrible.
When you write a memoir, you immerse yourself in the music, photos, ephemera, of all the eras you’re recalling. I found that even making meals I remembered from my childhood kitchen, would conjure missing details. Ask me about my "tuna on toast" recipe.
R: What were some of the challenges you faced while recounting the story of your life?
When I'd walk away from my writing desk and re-join the present moment, I’d get lost. The "chapters" wouldn't let go of me.
There’s no way around it. Writing is like being your own therapist, dog, and executioner.
In the preface of your book you write: “I was motivated, always, from the sting of social injustice– the cry of That isn’t fair! gets a lot more impulsive behavior from me than I want to get off.”
During the second wave feminist movement, these two concepts are tied directly together. How are they intertwined for you today?
I still motivate more from outrage than just about anything else. It's not particularly good for my health.
I too am the product of fiercely radical parents, so I'm interested in the description of your parents’ un-shockability in the book.
You tell the reader; “They were brainiacs; they were language, poetry, and music fiends; they took enormous pleasure in big ideas and the power of word. They were literary sensualists.”
I wonder if you felt their radicalness bestowed upon you a certain wild freedom—
Oh, no. My mom was liberal politically— very much so— but in her child-rearing and discipline attitudes, in our daily life, she was traditional, strict. We wore gloves to church. We cleaned our house from top to bottom every week. I was punished for slight infractions. My mother wasn’t lying around in a hammock smoking pot, she worked from dawn to dusk and came home exhausted. There was no social life.
Do radical parents pass on radical DNA to progeny? Have you ever sensed your own daughter trying to out-radical you?
I moved in with my father when I was fourteen. He did have a social life, he really enjoyed people. It was also an old-fashioned tenured professor’s life… no worrying about groceries. He went to parties and had friends and a love life; he introduced me to a lot of culture, movies, books, music— I loved that. But he was also a workaholic and devoted to his scholarly work; it meant everything to him.
I got “the work ethic” from both my parents, their parents too— as well as their sense of justice.
My daughter? She’s into all kinds of things I'm not savvy about, but it’s not like one of us is more “radical” than the other. I don’t compete with her in that fashion. She has tremendous compassion and sense of fair play… but gosh, who doesn’t, if you haven’t been locked in some gilded cage?
It was fascinating to read your memoir amidst the backdrop of the protests against Wall Street.
As a young woman you decried, “Why had people formulated revolution so long ago, yet nothing, nothing had changed?”
Later you state, “I felt like we were swimming against a tide of apathy.”
How do you perceive this in light of the Occupy movement? Also, what are some other ways in which you see revolution today?
The original activists of the Occupy movement have been screaming their lungs out for years, it’s just the times have caught up with them.
The pinkos, the anarchists, the punks, the anti-capitalists, the workers rights movement, the civil rights pioneers— those who’ve dealt with the brunt of racism and sexism all this tim— we never went away. We simply pass through depressing periods where apathy is in vogue among the chattering classes.
Just for my own fun… Who would Susie Bright crown as today’s George Putnam and why?
Oh, Rush Limbaugh, no doubt. I’m sure he aspired to be Putnam in his early years.
In this story, you portray your mother as a perpetual wanderer whose wandering spirit was bequeathed to you. By the end of the book the reader senses that Santa Cruz becomes home base, and a bit of the transience has faded. Is that an accurate perception and how has that affected your writing?
I am surprised I settled down in one place for more than a year or two. My mom was STILL making "one last move" when she was in her late 70s!
When speaking about On Our Backs magazine you state:“The premise of On Our Backs was going to be that lesbians were not celibates-in-waiting-for-the-revolution, or coldly distinct planets. We were alive to sex and adventure and being every kind of queer we could be.”
What is the equivalent now of OOB?
Equivalent to OOB? Nothing Fucking NOTHING. I show that magazine to people today and their mouths drop open. It is STILL ahead of its time.
I'm usually reading blogs or listening to podcasts or audiobooks or reading paper-books or going to live events. I follow many quick-witted militant bloggers.
I should give you an example but my mind always goes blank at moments like this.
Here's one blog I like to follow these days: Titsandsass.com,
One of my favorite vignettes in the book is when you are working at the feminist vibrator store and the two nuns who have been in love for twenty years walk in. You imply that it’s hard to imagine being with someone for so long. What are the sexual secrets for relational longevity?
It was hard to imagine such individual devotion when I was 21. Now it feels very familiar, since my loved ones are why I get up in the morning.
The ex-nuns advised me at the time: “We just love each other so much.”
You can’t bottle it.
You speak in depth about the emergence of the Apple computer and what it did for your publication. What was the influence of Steve Jobs' technology on your life as a writer?
I wrote a story about that: Steve Jobs and the Legacy of the Lesbian Erotic Revolution
How and why did you choose to end Big Sex Little Death where you did? Was ending the story something you struggled with as an author, or did it come about rather organically?
One night I was wondering aloud this very question: “How will I end this giant elephant?”
My daughter interrupted: “You’re going to stop it when I am born.”
I was so relieved someone told me what to do!
It is hard to know where to stop, although you know it's time to stop writing when you find yourself accidentally re-writing chapters you’ve already put to bed.
I needed a good twenty years hindsight to figure out how to write about my youth with any depth. Look forward to “Part 2” just before I take the last train out!
Photo Credit: Heroin Stamp Project