In her zine Rollerderby, Lisa Carver chases enlightenment around and
around the track of her obsessions -- power, control, sex, death, God, class, her cats, her body, her mind, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. She chronicles every smash-up in her reckless life, interviewing and writing articles about her boyfriends, friends, family and fans. She's my favorite sex writer: At her best, she wrestles meaning from chaos like an unrepentant St. Augustine. Rollerderby is outsider art, fanboy porn, therapy with an audience and an amazingly sustained act of self-creation.
Carver grew up on welfare, with her mother in and out of hospitals and her father in and out of jail. She did a six-week stint as a teen hooker; married and quickly divorced a French performance artist at 19; attempted
suicide several times; drunkenly brawled and balled onstage and off; had a baby with someone who is or pretends to be a Nazi; and most recently converted
to Judaism and got breast implants. At 18, she first got naked onstage with the performance troupe Suckdog, whose interactive "operas" broke bones in rock clubs across the country. "Dear Lisa Suckdog: Remember me? You beat up my date," begins a typical letter to Rollerderby, which Carver started publishing when she was 20.
Carver has lived her entire adult life in public. Besides Rollerderby and the two books it spawned, she also puts out long personal essays and a weekly coumn called "Sex Diaries" on the Web site Nerve. In a phone interview, Carver says that her oeuvre is autobiographical "because I can't write fiction and I'm a bad researcher ... I can't not write. I try to get control of reality by paragraphing it."
The paragraphing does give shape to the reality, but more and more the reality is controlled by the need to generate copy, especially since she took on the weekly Nerve gig early this year. She's honoring her commitment to produce steamy columns with the help of her fianci, Boston musician Dave Goolkasian. "It's my real life, but doing kinky stuff is an impetus to write and make money," Carver admits. Since taking up with Goolkasian, she's given him head in the back of a porno store while other patrons watched and flown in a woman she met in a Chicago bar to have sex with them. She's storing up other adventures for future columns: "The past is catching up to the present, but I'm still a few months ahead," she explains.
When I ask Carver if she ever feels shame, she replies, "Almost anything,
if you feel good about it, people think it must be neat. Do whatever you did and then say, 'I liked it,' and it's automatically attractive." She
seems stuck in that groove, as if she needs to prove over and over again that her audience still finds her debauchery "neat."
At the same time she preaches her lifestyle, however, Carver also seeks guidance from her acolytes. In Issue 23 of Rollerderby, she interviews Christian Scientists, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics and a Satanist about their beliefs, arguing for a system that will embrace her as she is. "I think God is life, is being alive. I tried to be good, I abstained," she complains to a Christian friend. "It made my soul irritable and withered. Carousing, depravity -- I give life that way." In the next issue, however, the first letter printed is from her copy editor, imploring her to get control of her drinking.
One of Carver's toughest sells was her affair with her son's father, Boyd Rice -- known in his underground circles for being a Nazi (or an appropriator of Nazi imagery) and a Satan worshipper. She printed the appalled letters from her friends and fans under the headline "Rollerderby Readers Review My Boyfriend." Carver used one of her favorite tropes, the Harlequin romance, to present her surrender to this "dark stranger," but the short-lived liaison seemed more like a response to the lousy parenting she'd received. The much older Rice both stood in for Carver's emotionally abusive father and allowed her to flout authority. Another unpopular
chapter was the breast-enhancement surgery, which she tells me was "a defiant thing. All my friends disapproved and that made me decide to do it."
When I first call Carver to set up the interview, she admits she doesn't
know how long she can keep her current life up. "I only want to be a sex writer for a few months for the same reason I only wanted to be a prostitute for a few months -- it starts to take over. I feel like I'm the pimp and Dave's the prostitute -- I get the money ... It makes me wonder if I'm just doing it for work, working on his body."
By the time Carver and I talk a few days later, however, she's gotten back with the program. "Sex writing doesn't separate me from sex like prostitution did ... Sex is so amorphous, but if you're thinking about writing it, you make it yours, not this cloud. It's like writing about dreaming -- when people keep a dream journal, they remember their dreams better." Sex writing also suits her Protestant work ethic, she says. "I'm not normal, I'm obsessed. I like to have sex four times a day. It could be a waste of time, but now it's work."
It's as if she's trying on the opinions of Lisa Carver, Adult, constructing the next volume of her life. She began to shed her wild-child skin in a recent Nerve essay, Lying With My Father. After all the Harlequin romanticizing of boyfriends pushing her around, she lays bare
the roots of her power obsession, describing a spectacularly unqualified parent and the 15-year-old who idolized him. Ken Carver picked up women and abused them for his daughter's entertainment, teaching her contempt, mistrust and emotional chaos. Carver grapples with his influence throughout the essay, blurring their identities, assuming the blame. Appalled by him as an adult, she tries to break the mold.
"As an experiment, I decided not to talk about sex for that entire summer ... I learned that I talked about it constantly, no matter who I was talking to. It also became apparent that it made people uncomfortable, and that I was not comfortable unless no one else was. Just like my father, I needed to keep everyone around me off-kilter, so I could control and direct the situation. I had become a monster."
She risks a lot in this essay. (When I compliment her on its courage, she calls it "whiny and humorless and no fun.") She says her father hasn't seen it and she hopes he doesn't. But she's cutting an even more important tie by disavowing the sex-talking monster she "had become." It is, after all, the in-your-face Lisa "Suckdog" Carver whom Rollerderby readers embraced and Nerve hired.
Carver says she recently attended a party whose theme was "what will you do
for a dollar. Everyone was like, 'Oooo it's Lisa Carver, she'll do anything,'" she complains. "I'm not a party girl anymore; I'm not crazy or poor, so I've started to figure out how to live beyond all that ... In high school I went from being ostracized to being so weird people were in awe of me. With Suckdog and Rollerderby, I caught up with the sex image of myself and I dragged that stage out for 10 years."
Carver just turned 30, and her son is 4 -- old enough to read soon. She
has just signed a contract for two books: the partly written "Sex Diaries" and an account of two cross-country trips. One trip will be a composite of Suckdog debauchery and the other her honeymoon with Goolkasian, scheduled for this summer. She is finishing up the 25th and final issue of Rollerderby and grappling with "how to fit myself into institutions like marriage" and motherhood.
Carver's son comes into her office while we're on the phone. She patiently asks him several times to go downstairs, she'll be down in 10 minutes. He argues reasonably, not brattily, then goes away. "Be a good boy," she calls after him. He singsongs back, "Be a good woman."