Eve Ensler: Free at last

As the author of cultural phenomenon “The Vagina Monologues,” as well as works such as “In the Body of the World” and “Insecure at Last,” Eve Ensler has spent years exploring the mind’s crevices and the body’s physical plane.

With the finesse of a forensic psychologist, the playwright’s work has left readers and audiences more in touch with what it means to “feel.”

With the arrival of the #metoo movement, Ensler said she felt compelled to write about her perils and scars — to write in her father’s voice.

In anticipation of her May 22 appearance at Parkway Central Library, Ensler spoke about her newest book, “The Apology,” a therapeutic collection wherein she gives her abuser the chance to apologize.

PGN: It’s difficult to jump into an interview when a story is so painful and evocative.

EE: Hard to intro, I know.


PGN: Thirty-one years after your father’s death, why did you decide to address the physical and sexual assault you experienced at his hands now?

EE: As we survive, and then begin to find a way to recover, we have to go through a lot of internal work. So, it’s been a long journey to get here: writing, all kinds of therapy, bodywork, an entire life of trying to get myself out of the cave. I think what happened was having worked in the movement for violence against women for all these years of my life thinking about these issues, over and over and the recent innovation of #metoo, I started thinking about how we called men out, how we’ve broken the silence. And I started to think: Well, what are men really doing? What is changing? I mean, some have lost their jobs momentarily. Some have lost face or gone to prison. But I had never read anywhere the case of a man going through deep and true self-interrogation, looking at his childhood, examining the roots of violence within himself.


PGN: You really went deep, trying to make him take responsibility and accountability so as to make a genuine apology.


EE: I couldn’t think of one real apology. Lots of men feeling sorry for themselves. Lots of self-pity. But nothing to change or transform the energy within themselves toward women. I started to think what would a real apology look and sound like — what its texture and tone might be. So I decided to write one. See what it could do.


PGN: Do you know any men who have offered genuine apologies?

EE: I certainly know men who are better representatives. But have I heard an apology? No. Maybe gay men have been apologetic. Many gay men I know have suffered similar trajectories. Most men feel shame, but just don’t know what to do about it.


PGN: When you began to write, what did the first pages look like? Was the book always in your father’s voice?

EE: I felt like I wanted to hear what I needed to hear come out of my father’s mouth, in the way that my father spoke. It was a profound writing process. I didn’t know who was in who — was I in my father? Was he in me? What I discovered was, when someone abuses you and they violate your body and your existential being, they actually enter you. We get to know our perpetrators even better than we know ourselves, particularly if they are members of our family. We’re always anticipating what they’ll do next.


PGN: You become a psychic detective.

EE: Yes, like a sleuth as to what their mood is — what this signals. So, I have always remained in a dialogue with my father. I was kind of surprised to see how different his language and his voice was. That was kind of like ‘whoa.’ Once it started to speak, that portal opened, it didn’t stop.


PGN: As a playwright, you’re probably practiced in voice.

EE: It is something to which I am accustomed. Still, I was surprised to hear how deep and clear that particular voice came through.


PGN: Do you ever wonder if you got your voice from his voice or your mother?

EE: Really hard to say. I don’t know. Maybe in reaction. I think I found my voice fighting for my life, you know? In resistance. In trying to not be destroyed in the tsunami of cruelty and violence.


PGN: Where does your mother fit into this story?

EE: She was, to some degree, a person in the shadows. She had no power with the CEO organization and was, at best, an assistant — an exploited and demeaned one at that. When you’re living under a tyrant — and you need only look toward our current Predator-in-Chief to understand — no one else has any power. You live within another’s rampage.

PGN: How did your childhood experiences affect your romantic relationships?

EE: I’ve been with men and women my whole life. The relationship with my father had a profound effect on all my relationships. I was not capable of a certain kind of intimacy. It’s claustrophobic for me — intimacy. I always believed I was secondary. So, what’s going to happen now that I feel an openness, a readiness? I don’t know if it will manifest itself in terms of relationships. We’re told that we need to be in one-on-one relationships, but that isn’t the case in my life. My friends, my comrades in the struggle, have always been my deepest relationships.


PGN: While writing the book, did you feel as if you were in harm’s way again?

EE: I certainly did go back and relive a lot of this. But, now, I honestly can tell you that it feels like it’s pretty done. Do you remember at the end of Peter Pan, where Tinkerbell just goes whoosh and disappears into the distance? That’s what I feel like – that my life has been framed by a particular paradigm, which is pretty much playing victim to my father’s perpetrator for 60 years. Now it’s over, and I don’t know which paradigm I’m in anymore. I’m excited but a little lost. It feels like I’m in a car, and I don’t know how to drive it quite yet. But I love driving. 


photo credit Paula Allen