Today, Babble editor-in-chief Ada Calhoun
interviews former “Lisa Diaries” columnist and frequent essayist Lisa Carver.
How did you start working for Nerve?
Before it even went live, Rufus and Genevieve had read my book, Dancing Queen, which had a chapter on kissing. They said, “Could you write an essay about putting people into categories like you did with kissing, but about ‘doing it?'” So I did, and that’s how “Some of My Best Friends Are Sensualists” came to be.
You just started writing regularly after that?
When I became friends with them, I was talking on the phone with them a lot. I said to Genevieve, “So I’m thinking of getting some plasticbreasts.” She said, “Oh, you should write about it for us.” So I did. That was the second story that I wrote for them. I kept on going to New York or Ohio or Boston and having debaucherous weekends, and I would email Genevieve all about it the next day. I had like six boyfriends and a couple of girlfriends. One day, she said, you should have a live diary. This was 1998. I didn’t know of any blogs or live diaries or anything, and I don’t even think Sex and the City existed. But I thought, “Why not?” I tell everybody everything anyway. This way, I don’t have to keep on telling different people, I can just write it once, and everyone’s gonna know who I did it with that night. Of course, I got married right then, and my husband agreed, too. So that’s how “The Lisa Diaries” came about, and that ran until 2001.
What kind of feedback would you get from it?
I tend to have unrealistically high estimations of myself in my memory, but I seem to recall everybody loving it and saying, “I can’t wait to see what happens next.” They would weigh in on what I should do next, and whether I should go swinging again or stop swinging, and, “It shouldn’t be this guy, because I kinda like this guy” — you’re only supposed to do it with people you don’t really like, so your husband doesn’t get jealous. People were really having an influence on my “down-there” activity. It became interactive. I always wanted to have an orgy, and that was one of the few things I’d never done, besides going to Japan and hang-gliding. And it was because of Nerve that that dream was realized. In 1999, I was running a chatroom on Nerve, too, and there were all kinds of crazy characters on there. I had a contest; the winners would win me and my husband.
That was when we met.
I interviewed you for the Austin Chronicle. I remember because the last thing you said before we hung up was, “You should enter, maybe you’ll win my husband!” [laughs]
No, I didn’t [laughs].
The one who won me, Grant Stoddard, was an immigrant dishwasher. After our orgy, he went on to become Nerve‘s “I Did It for Science,” and then he wrote a book. The girl that won my husband, she brought her husband as well. So then it was five people, and that made it an orgy — because four people is just wife-swapping — but five people is my dream come true. So thank you, Nerve. Now, I just have hang-gliding and Japan left.
Was it fulfilling? Was it everything you had hoped it’d be?
Not at all. Well, I didn’t hope that it would be any particular way. So it would be hard to disappoint someone who doesn’t care about the outcome, but it was not sexually satisfying. But it was fun. We also went bowling at the all-night strobe-light bowling alley.
Because what else can you do with a house full of orgygoers?
The one thing I learned is the wrap-up. It would really be nice if the bell chimed twelve and everyone just — poof! — disappeared. If not, then take them bowling. Perfect.
Were you ever in the office?
Yes, several times. I used to go to New York a bit. So I would go to parties, and I would go to the office, and I took part in that HBO pilot. HBO were running around filming us, and everyone was showing off. I went to go get waxed, because I had never been waxed in my tenderest of spots. I did it live for HBO. Normally I don’t get waxed in front of roomfuls of men, but because HBO was there and because it was 1999 and the fever was high, it was just like that. Afterward, I went to a toy shop, bought some jewels and glue, and I made a cat-face with jewel eyes and a little button nose. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
What was the office dynamic like?
I was only there several times, and whenever I came, it was party time. It seemed like everyone was kind of playing at being serious minds of our generations, and at the same time, they were frivolous and having fun. What made it absurd was how intellectual the approach was to these really filthy ideas. You could feel the conflicts and the humor that came out of that, and that’s why I loved working for them. They rarely turned down my dumb ideas, where usually I get turned down left and right, because I just don’t fit, but Nerve was the not-fitting-place.
What’s your favorite story that you’ve done for Nerve?
Interviewing Billy Idol, of course. I asked him to marry me, and he said, “Okay.” He said, “Well, what do you look like?” and did I have any money?
I remember the publicist breaking in, and telling you to get back on topic, and you were like, “That is the topic.”
Not only did she break in on us, but she hung up on me. When the love-train gets rolling, it takes more than a warning from a publicist to stop the train.
What was the assignment you really hated doing?
The feedback on that was amazing. People really relate to it.
I think Generation X in general was in a difficult position. It’s not that we were so much molested but we were “parentified,” I think that’s the term. We were generally the latchkey kids who were treated as a confidante, especially of sexual matters, because of the sexual revolution and there were so many single parents, and you were supposed to tell the truth to your children about everything—which was not a good idea in retrospect. So it was sort of like we were all kind of semi-molested, and yet it was never real molestation. Just like when people are not actually physically abused, but it was just weird, like a weird punishment. That’s almost worse than if someone hits you, because then you know, “Oh, someone hit me,” and then you can get past it. But sexual closeness that we’ve had, especially with our mothers, had a tremendous, weird, weird effect on our boundaries and our ideas about sexuality. And I haven’t really heard anyone exploring this, and I think this essay was touching, so to speak, on it. I wish somebody would write a big thing on it for Time magazine, but you can count on Nerve to have the germ of the big idea.
I feel like part of the memoir and blog phenomenons is that we have this idea that talking fixes everything.
We don’t even question it. It’s just right to spew. And also, children are not your equals or friends. You know, it’s funny. My dad introduced me to punk; he wanted me to be more rebellious. When I was fifteen, he made me watch a documentary on the Sex Pistols, and he said, “Well, why aren’t you doing something like that?” And so I did, but it’s kind of like, how could I have my own rebellion when I was serving my father? And I never had a chance to even find out if I would have my own rebellion. Of course I could rebel against rebellion by becoming ultra-conservative, and I did try that — and that’s why “The Lisa Diaries” ended, because of my brief flirtation with ultra-conservativism. Then I wrote an essay on Nerve on why I wasn’t having sex anymore.
You’ve been in trouble over your writing for Nerve. What’s the latest with that?
The trouble is, my former subject has decided to take everything that I’ve ever written for Nerve and show it to the Department of Children, Youth, and Families, and has tried to take custody away from me, and show it to judges and lawyers and investigators and psychological evaluators. And you know what’s ended up happening is, all of them say, “I don’t care; as long as you don’t do it in front of your kids, that’s fine with me.”
And I think that’s the whole problem with Generation X, is that our parents did do it in front of us, because they were trying to include us and be our best friends. So I can do anything I want as long as I’m not my kid’s best friend. And it’s been really good for me to have all of these investigations, in a way, because I used to have two lives — my life with Nerve and my other artistic endeavors or whatever — and I took my kids to school and I tried to be the perfect PTA person. I tried to have a secret life. And Nerve exposed all that. The mailman knew me from Nerve; he was a subscriber. Because Nerve got really huge. I had no idea. When I signed up with Nerve, I thought it was going to be fifty people in Arkansas who were going to gratefully subscribe every month. It turned out, a taxi driver recognized me from Nerve. My neighbor recognized me. My landlord read about my orgy in his house! My child’s pediatrician read “The Lisa Diaries” in book form because he saw it in the bookstore. And he loved it.
So it was really good, because I had been scrambling all the time, because I actually didn’t want the Nerve people to know that I was secretly a PTA mother, and I didn’t want the school people to know that I was actually a whore. When everybody found out, it turned out everybody still liked me. So Nerve really freed up my energy, because it took so much energy—I was trying to hide everything from everybody. Now I’m much more social, because I don’t have to worry.