Worth’s first novel PostApoc is not just a post-apocalyptic novel about the slow decay of civilization. That’s a part of it, but it mostly concentrates on the detritus that is the body and the survey of emotions that come and go as characters try to eat, exist, and survive on a daily basis. Characters are numb at the same time hyper aware, they are accepting but astonished, they are gross and beautiful. What’s really interesting about this novel is it is about the end of the world, something that has been popularized in the last decade or so, but it reads very intimately. Ang, the protagonist, describes her surroundings and her friends in a way that makes the story surreal and rubbery. We ride the highs and lows with her. We do the drugs. We question her sanity. We wonder the same things. Worth’s work is not something you pick up if you want a lazy read. Her deep respect for the mind-body connection is prevalent and she tells her story in a way that is commanding, visceral and mature.
Ang and her friends still try to find make-up to wear and smear ashes over their lips and dig into lipstick tubes even though the world is coming to an end. What does this represent in the context of the story? Are they preparing for combat? Putting on a figurative mask?
There was a time when I was deeply obsessed with the idea of the end of the world, to the point where it stressed me out so much I had to stop thinking about it altogether. It was at a time when global warming was a big media topic and there was a lot of talk about the impact of consumerism, urban density, and poor city planning.
At the time, I was in college and worked in retail. During the summer Toronto, where I live, had numerous smog and heat alerts, and people were being told to stay inside if they had breathing problems. But there I was, working in a big box bookstore where the air conditioning was cranked and people were driving up constantly, all day every day, to grab a coffee or walk around and browse. And there I was working there and I just kept thinking, what the hell are we doing?
It made me wonder what would really happen if the world was coming to an end. Here we were living in horrible weather conditions, to the point where some members of the population couldn’t even go out, and yet we were still out shopping. What kind of routines would people try to hang onto if everything was ending?
I think there are some things that people would want to keep as long as possible, and for some, beauty would be one of them. In PostApoc, they still try to maintain some kind of creative culture, some kind of social life, however weird and bleak it might be. So it seemed natural that the girls would want to get ready to go out the same as they did before.
The telling of the story concentrates on physical descriptions and sensations. One of the few positive physical sensations occurs when the crew is listening to music. Is your personal relationship with music similar to this and in what ways?
When I was younger I used to get a rush when I listened to music. I still do sometimes, but it doesn’t happen as often now. I wanted my characters to still have music because creativity doesn’t die easily. People find ways to keep creating no matter what their circumstances, and people also seek out release and inspiration no matter what their circumstances.
Music is something a lot of people say they can’t live without. I know for me, there have been many times that music has changed my life, or saved my life, and the characters in PostApoc have certainly been defined by it just as much, though it tends to be more on an emotional level than a physical one. I think in PostApoc, everything is so set within the body because they are all so much more aware of their physical selves through exhaustion and starvation and stress.
One of the things that I found very interesting about this story is that people were paying for physical non-sexual touching. Why include this in a story about the end?
I wanted them to still need to find ways to access goods – in the case of Ang and her housemates, this usually tends to be drugs and alcohol – but it didn’t make sense to me to still need money because money is too much a part of the current system, and in PostApoc every mainstream structure has fallen apart. When I was talking it through with my boyfriend he said, “well, if you use sex as currency it’s going to be such a cliche,” which I agreed with, and it got me to thinking about what people might really want – or need – from others if they were totally alone.
Why not reassurance? Why not someone to just listen to them? Someone to hold onto for an hour or two? Those small acts of intimacy, of friendship, would have fallen away, and when faced with so much uncertainty, I don’t think it’s so hard to believe that people would truly crave that kind of comfort. People crave those things regularly as it is. Those wants and needs wouldn’t just disappear, and I liked playing with the idea of them overriding sexual urges.
This story about the end is also about the apocalypse of the body. The characters get sick both physically and mentally, some endure, die. The descriptions of human pain and decay are a huge part of this story that doesn’t really look to the outside world to propel it forward. Why concentrate so much on the body and the internal rather than the external?
A lot of my writing tends to focus on the body, particularly its ugliest features. Bodies fascinate me and disgust me. Even though the most beautiful people excrete the same bodily fluids as everyone else. I think I have a pretty high level of self-awareness and am very in tune with my body. Sometimes I know I’m getting sick two days before it actually happens. I can feel the difference between a day I’ve exercised and a day I haven’t, and definitely a drop in energy the day after eating poorly. I’m obsessed with tracking how everything affects me and how I can alter my state of being on a regular basis.
So because I’m always checking in with myself and seeing how things are working, it’s only natural that my writing would have such a focus on the physical.
You have a way of making the ugly and painful beautiful and even sensual? Is this something you cultivate or is it part of your natural voice?
I’ve never really thought much about where it came from. I do like contradictions, though, and I like the challenge of playing with ugly things using beautiful words. Writing doesn’t have to be pretty – I actually prefer it when it’s dangerous and jagged. A lot of my favourite writers, like the late Daniel Jones, made very ugly things and situations so vivid and compelling through their words. So I’m sure through all my time spent reading that I’ve been influenced by some great writers, and another part of me probably also strives to deliver my ideas with as much style.
What kind of research did you do for this novel?
I did some research about city food supplies, survival tips, and superstitions, but I ended up perverting a lot of the survival stuff to intersperse it with old folk tales and superstitions, which was for a chapter in which Ang is given a survival guide that is completely unusable. I wanted that to be a message that this really was the end, that there was no way to make sense of it and no way to escape it.
What are some books you’ve read recently?
Autobiography by Morrissey, The N-Body Problem by Tony Burgess, and The Long Hard Road Out of Hell by Marilyn Manson.
What’s next for Liz Worth?
In the fall I finished a new poetry manuscript and am now working on a what I hope will turn into a new novel. I’m also rewriting Andy Warhol’s ‘a: A Novel’ as poetry, which people can check out online at rewritingwarhol.blogspot.ca
Liz Worth is an author and performance poet whose book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. Liz has also written a poetry collection, Amphetamine Heart and three chapbooks. She currently resides in Toronto.