LR: Why did you write Bound? How long did it take?
EAW: My mom was a writer. She’d been a journalist by training though for most of her life her work was administrative. Still, she always loved to write, and she was good at it. When she was sick, we talked about writing a book or an article together about our unconventional relationship and about her experience of sexuality and illness.
Ultimately, her illness made it impossible for her to write, or even to think clearly enough for long enough periods to be part of a collaboration. And I think it would have been impossible for me to write an emotionally honest book about our relationship while collaborating with her for fear of hurting her feelings.
Still, I knew she wanted her story told. As you’ll know from the book, my notebook was my shield while she was sick, and so about a year after she died, I took out those notebooks and started writing. That was in 2014. I signed with She Writes in 2018 and the book was published almost exactly five years after I started writing it.
LR: What’s been the most unexpected thing you learned while writing this book?
EAW: I think the most unexpected thing I learned was something I learned from publishing the book, not from writing it. I learned that what I wanted and what I needed from a publisher were not the same, and my wants got in the way of my meeting my needs.
What I wanted was a publisher who made me feel valued as an author and who made me feel like my story was worthwhile and interesting. In wanted a publisher who made me feel good. When I signed with She Writes Press I figured out pretty quickly that they were not going to provide those feelings, and I realized that they weren’t supposed to – that’s not their job. Their job is to produce an excellent book. And they do that very well! We had conflicts around the title, the cover, and ultimately, I took their advice on each and the book is better for it even though I felt lousy at the time. Lesson: Publishing is a business. Focus on the business and not the emotions, and you’ll probably be happier in the end!
LR: You’ve said that the purpose of your book is to open spaces for conversation between parents and their adult children, between caregivers and those who need them, and between health care providers and patients and that the quality of our lives depends on them. Can you elaborate on that?
EAW: This is SO important to me. Some of the most important elements of our lives – aging, illness, sexuality, caregiving, and death – are among the hardest to talk about.
About 34 million people – that’s 1/10 of the population – are caregivers in any given year. Quality of life, especially at the end of life, rests on several things, but one foundation is good communication. People, as they are aging, need to talk those who love them and those who take care of their minds and bodies about what kind of care they want as the get old, or if they get sick. And those are not one-time conversations. People’s ideas about care needs, or end-of-life wishes, develop and change over time.
These conversations are hard, and my hope is that books like mine will help people have some of those difficult conversations. It’s often easier to open a conversation if you have something to point to or share that isn’t immediately personal.
LR: Lots of adult children will be caregivers for their parents. You caution that keeping secrets is a hazard to those relationships. Why?
EAW: Secrets related to sexuality are a problem for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t necessarily lose our desire for intimacy and pleasure when we get sick or as we age. People who need care and people who are caregivers need to be able to talk about a person’s needs for intimacy and pleasure and need to be able to discuss how the care they receive will affect it. They also need to be able to talk about how to adapt to those effects, or how to accommodate the person’s sexual relationships or desires as best they can.
Second, and in a more existential way, there’s a story I tell in Bound about my sister and I cleaning up our mother’s apartment and finding many of her bondage and sexual equipment. My sister and I were both aware of our mother’s sexuality and so this was not shocking even if some of the items were. Imagine though, that we hadn’t known. In fact, imagine that we hadn’t found these things until after she’d died. That’s a common experience, actually. And what it does is it puts the survivor in the position of having to reconfigure their entire understanding of who their loved one was without being able to ask the questions they need answered. It may be easier for people who die to never confront these secrets or the conflicts, and that’s certainly their right. But that lost opportunity can be devastating for those they leave behind.
Category: Adult non-fiction 18 yrs +, 296 pages
Publisher: She Writes Press.
Release date: August 2019
Content Rating: PG-13 + M. In addition to its primary focus on confronting terminal illness in the context of a complex mother-daughter relationship, this book addresses mature themes of sexuality (specifically BDSM), death, and illness. Conversations about sexuality are related, sex toys and body parts are mentioned by name, but there are no actual erotic sex scenes. There are healthcare scenes that describe procedures and bodily functions and fluids. There is a fair amount of poop in some scenes. The F-word appears once, on page 167, used in an expletive sense. The word “shit” appears twice, once as an expletive on p. 51 and once in reference to bodily waste and also metaphorically.
What happens when a forty-something, community college sociology professor learns that her mother―a charming, passive-aggressive, and needy woman who hasn’t had a lover in decades―has started seeing men who want to be bound, whipped, and sexually dominated? What happens when that same mother, shortly after diving into her newly discovered sexuality, develops a cancer that forces her to accept radical changes to her body, and then another that forces her, and everyone around her, to confront her mortality? In Bound, Elizabeth Anne Wood addresses these questions as she chronicles the last eight months of her mother’s life―a period she comes to see, over the course of months, as a maternity leave in reverse: she is carrying her mother as she dies. Throughout their journey, Wood uses her notebook as a shield to keep unruly emotions at bay, often taking comfort in her role as advocate and forgetting to “be the daughter,” as one doctor reminds her to do. Meanwhile, her mother’s penchant for denial and her childlike tendency toward magical thinking lead to moments of humor even as Wood battles the red tape of hospital bureaucracies, the frustration of planning in the midst of an unpredictable illness, and the unintentional inhumanity of a health care system that too often fails to see the person behind the medical chart.
Elizabeth Anne Wood is Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Nassau Community College in Garden City, NY. She is also Senior Strategist for Woodhull Freedom Foundation, the nation’s only human rights organization working full time to protect sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. She earned her PhD at Brandeis University in 1999 and has written critically about sexuality and society ever since. Born on an Army base in Kentucky, Wood grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and now divides her time between Queens, New York and Jamaica Plain, Boston. She is a devoted fan of Amtrak and an avowed cat person.
Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram
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