Portland Writing Intensive

Portland Writing Intensive with Ariel Gore

Ariel is teaching her first in-person workshop in ages… and it’s in Portland, Oregon…

May 18 – 21, 4 to 7 pm each day

Four afternoons of inspiration, writing, feedback, food.
$195
Produce powerful new writing, vanquish creative blocks, revitalize a half-done project or start something brand new.
Appropriate for beginning and experienced writers—and all of us in between.
We’ll feed you a light dinner each evening so you don’t have to worry about anything but your words.
Ladd’s Addition area.
Class size strictly limited, so please sign up early.

Owning Me

By Meg WJ
You could’ve made a safer bet, but what you break is what you get.
You wake up in the bed you make. I think you made a big mistake.
You own me. There’s nothing you can do. You own me.
—Mark Berninger of The National, Lucky You

 

Owning me was written into the game but not like this. Not my splintered heart. Not brittle distance. Not unmet longing.

 

I wasn’t supposed to fall in love. 

 

I want to read a book that he hasn’t written yet. The one that explicates the poem of us–that explains why he finds me irresistible, how I got under his skin in ways he doesn’t usually allow. I want to read his clever prose that pretends disdain for my verbose devotion, but that belies the truth that he loves every syllable. I want details of his compelling desire to walk away from this connection because he craves simplicity, but how he knows he would miss me. I want to read his descriptions of our interactions, hear his internal dialogue about the emails I send him that he refers to as novellas. I want to read all the responses he crafts in his mind while reading through my wordy, overly-analytical messages. I want his reflections on the scenes we did together, scenes he crafted every bit of, delivering them upon me with exquisite creativity.

 

I want to read the book we would write together, exploring the intersections of our words and bodies, of power and attunement, of submission and silence.

 

I’m waiting for patience, for inspiration, for the words that convey the convergence of emotions gurgling within me. Sadness, slippery and solemn, sings a lonely song in my soul. Anger is acutely aware of his absence. Curiosity crackles within my consciousness. What keeps him from clearly communicating when he claims to still want connection with me? Amusement always has an angle and something clever to say. Like, “Hey! How’s that good reply coming? I’ve known people to write their thesis in a month – all I’m waiting on from you is an email…” Waiting to hear from him has been excruciating on so many occasions I have lost count. Minutes bleed into hours, hemorrhage into days, flood into weeks.

 

I’m waiting, waiting, waiting to allow myself to stop waiting, to close the chapter myself, to let what we had be just that – a collection of memories in the past tense. I am waiting to see how long I can wait. I am waiting, still, again, always.

 

The weight of waiting wears on me.

 

He is withholding and guarded. Distant. It wasn’t always this way. In the beginning were the words, oceans of words spilling from two directions. There was intrigue, interest, inspiration, and intention. There were rules of engagement. But my heart doesn’t follow rules. 

 

The wrong part of me is owned by him. I am ready to buy it back. It will cost every ounce of courage I can produce. I will pay for it with every pore of worthiness I embody. I will need to remember that a broken heart is not the end of anything, it is a beginning.

 

 

Meg WJ writes to connect with herself and to understand the world around her. Her writing has been published in two different anthologies and she is working on a collection of memoir pieces she plans to self-publish. Meg holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a licensed professional counselor in private practice, working primarily within LGBT communities.

Star People

The assignment: Set your timer for 8 minutes. You have just realized that you’re a star being. Write. Stop when the time’s up. Submit.

 

Bones

Lindsey Campbell

The day I realized I might not have bones, I sat and scratched and rubbed and picked at the skin on my hands until they were raw and needed to be bandaged. Still, I found no bones. For that matter, there was no blood.

To find the blood I had to cut deeper. There’s a difference between picking and scratching—and cutting. Cutting can cut to the bone. It will find blood below the surface.

The cat was telepathically communicating with me about the football on the TV. I don’t like football, I was concerned about finding my bones.

I knew we weren’t all the same.

I don’t have bones. I have to cut deep to find blood. I’m telepathic.

When I close my eyes I can feel all my molecules. My molecules are stardust.

All molecules are simply stardust, but most people can’t feel that.

Most people don’t know, or they don’t want to know. I know.

Stardust is the matter of the universe. It’s in everything. It is everything.

I might not have bones, but at least I know that I’m stardust.

I know it, I live it. I am.

Lucien is confused, “Yes, you have bones. Yes, you have blood. You’re alive.”

I’m only as alive as millions of years of stardust made from dinosaurs and sea creatures.

Returning to the universe and becoming something again, re-comprised, reconstituted, recycled stardust.

How do I come together like this, and fall apart at the same time?

Is there a moment between this and stardust becomes me, even fleetingly?

The Star Tattoos

Sarah Maria Medina

I was seventeen. Joey and I had just gotten star tattoos. I had dropped out of the ninth grade and never went back, but I still loved to read. I had read something about all the stars being made of the same atoms as me. Joey and I tripped on that. He was my love then. Even though it was an impossible love. He was in love with me too, as much as he could be. He was such a prince of a drag queen. He had been raised by his Mexican grandmother. He believed in spells she taught him, things like raw eggs below the bed to break a fever. Yes, Joey and I were made of star dust.

He came home one night, saying “Stars, stars, I see them everywhere now.” After our tattoos, they had begun appearing randomly. Messages from the universe that we were truly stardust. But the rough hands that touched our skin were different. The men who would seek him out in the bars, and the men who paid the five dollar cover fee to get into the Italian mafia run cheap dirty clubs out North were not made of stardust. They were something else entirely. They wanted to touch our stardust. To see our shine and glimmer, this much I knew. But Joey and me, we were stardust. And Leif and Gemma. They were stardust too.

Leif was another drag queen and Gemma was more than just a fag hag. We were not fag hags. No, we didn’t believe in that. She was beautiful and glamorous and a Libra like me. She and Leif would throw magical energetic balls across the dance floor. They believed in that shit. And at sixteen, I did too. I could see those magical balls of light sliding through the air between the two of them. Back when I went to the Weathered Wall with the fake ID that someone had given me.

Then Gemma was murdered. We grieved. It had been a knife. Whoever had held that knife was not made of stardust. They were not from our world of magic that we had created in response to all of the broken glass and dust and pain that surrounded our lives.

Afterwards, she came to me in a dream. She came to others too. At her memorial, one man said that she had told him she was free. And he had heard her laughter, that tinkling bell.
Gemma had been a few years older than me. She was a clothing designer. Her and Leif. Gemma would dress me up in her fantastic creations and put my full round body on her run way. One day I asked her when she had known she would quit the clubs, and she told me when the time was right. That meant I would too. One day. And she was right.

We were stardust.

 

The First Clue

Rhea St. Julien

The first clue was the stardust. It started seeping out of everywhere—my ears, my eyes, my armpits, my neck. In retrospect, I think it was the hormones of puberty that started this process, but it was, like most of the changes of adolescence, an unwelcome and surprising development. I scrubbed my whole body clean every time I saw a little of it, that shimmery substance that smelled vaguely of space.

Until one day, when I woke up and it was all around me in the bed, enveloping me like a cape. The viscosity of it was the best thing I had ever felt – like velvet, like coming home. I sunk into it like a warm bath. I let it swirl around me, seeping in and out of skin from every orifice. I had never felt so sated, so pure, so free.

And so utterly in-human.

Who the fuck was this family I was living with? No one had ever mentioned anything like this happening to them, and they’d treated me like an alien since the morning I was born.

Maybe they were right.

The morning I woke up with the stardust sea in my bed, it was still dark outside. I reveled in the dust, then walked outside in the cool air, the shimmer leaving a trail behind me.

I sat out on the deck and watched the stars until they disappeared from view.

 

Colors I Had No Name For

Kristi Wallace Knight

Star being. I look across the campfire at my companions. Greta is dozing with her chin in her chest, turned slightly away from the fire. Brenda and Bronwyn have their heads close together, murmuring a story to each other. It probably looks to them like I am dozing, too. I probably did doze, as far as they knew. But I traveled, up there, into the stars. They sang to me, no one else seemed to notice or hear, and as I looked up and listened their song turned to light, a thousand times deeper than starlight, with colors I had no name for. Their notes became words with sounds no one had ever spoken before, but I understood, and they said, we are you, you are us, and I was at home in no way I ever had been before.

And now I am back with them, my traveling companions, these creatures of earth, and I see their natures, too. Greta is of earth, she is stone, she is stillness, she stores the day for the night and night for the day, she is slow but constant. Brenda and Bronwyn, the twins, are water, they go places smaller than anyone else sees. Daniel is air, he is within and between and through us all, carrying things from there to here, he is what moves us. David is fire, he warms us on our journey, but he may consume us, too. We keep him at a distance.

 

Starstuff

Kait Moon

I was 24, he was 37.

What we lacked in common we made up in drugs.

I met him in a bar I’d never been to. I’d been living in Olympia for two years and never went that far down 4th street. The bar was at the north end of town, where the hippies hung out. I was more of a club girl.

I walked in the glass front door. 10:30 pm and the place was essentially empty. I looked over at the long bar on the right and my eyes followed it down as it melted off into the distant expanse of a great deep hall of a pub.

I ordered a Guinness, sipped it, ordered another. I stewed and prayed to all the gods for someone to come and bring me some weed.

“Hi.”

“Hi” I replied

“What’s your name?”

“Kelly Luna, yours?”

“Jess Fagan”

“Wait, do I know you? I know I’ve seen your name.”

“Not sure how, but your name sounds familiar too” he said.

We determined he DJ’d at the radio station where I was DJ and music director, I knew his name from the playlists and reports, he knew mine from the announcements and the giant whiteboard outside the studio where I wrote all the new music that had come in.

“Want to get stoned?”

“Yes, I really, really do.”

We walked down 4th street, further North, to an apartment he was house-sitting. We made our way into the studio, typical Oly-hippie; Beads hanging from the bathroom doorway, throw pillows, milk carton crates holding the record player up and the records in. I sat on the tapestry-covered futon and he put on a record, then sat down next to me to pack a bowl.

An hour later:

“Wanna make out?”

“Not really.”

“OK,” he said and lit a fresh bowl and handed it to me, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

Three months later I’d be living with him and doing more than make out and we’d start a year of trying everything we could get our hands.

He told me about his journeys in Guatemala, of taking peyote, of eating fresh mangoes off the trees with salt.

I told him about my days on the streets, how I at 16 I’d heard about Evergreen State College and knew I’d go there someday, and how I made my way to Olympia.

One night, after three days of fresh cyanescens tea, we decided to do something a little different. We’d gotten it from a friend, something synthetic with lots of numbers and letters and no real name. By the end of the night the curtains were melting, I’d become a porch swing with toes, communed with the house spirits and Jess and I had determined that he was made of Godstuff, and I was made of Starstuff. To this day, he still calls me that and reminds me who I really am: a girl made of Stars.

 

You Told Me You Were a Witch

Kitty Torres

“Darling, remember how I used to climb the wall and sit in the corner of the room on Full Moon nights and I told you it was a witch thing?”

“Yes…” his voice goes up in the end.  He’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Well,” I say, releasing my long fluffy tail, “that wasn’t exactly true. I’m from another planet.”

“You told me you were a witch.”

“I know. I didn’t want to scare you. The truth is I am from another planet and my people are coming to pick up me up tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I just found out, otherwise, I would have given you more notice.”

“Notice?”

“They won’t hurt you.”

“What about the baby?”

“You can have the baby, all I want is the dog.  He’s one of us.”

“Us?”

“From my planet.” I point to the  Northwestern sky.

“I’m calling Dr. Larkin,” he says. “And booking the first available appointment.”

“I’ll be gone by then.”

The next day at sunrise I hug my baby good-bye, look at my garden, and smell the pine tree for the last time.  My husband is snoring softly. I blow him a kiss. The space ship is invisible and parked at the end of the cul-de-sac.  I clip the dog’s leash on and walk out the door.

I will miss this little planet.

Dr. Larkin will console my husband.  He’ll say it was probably postpartum depression. I just ran away.

My husband will wonder, look up at the Northwest sky after midnight, and cry.

 

Dancing Star

Lisbeth Coiman

Joseph and I can’t miss a chance to dance. I have this dancing energy that transforms me, beyond inhibitions and social barriers. My hips move to the beat of drums as if driven by a mind of their own.

With Joseph, I’m the star of the show.

With his shy manners, he lets me lead while he enjoys the swaying of my hips and our legs interlocked in rhythmic synchronization.

People stop dancing and look at us; sometimes they clap and encourage us.

We dance along at the center of the party, feeling the magic of the moment transpire through our glowing skins. We look into each other eyes, let the music invade us and carry us to a place that’s both intimate and public.

Transfixed, my body sways to one side and I feel his follow in perfect unison, moving in the same direction, encircling mine with a sexual energy that barely needs contact to burn in desire. I pass under his open arm as he grabs me by the waist and turns me around. Again we face each other, and continue the game of hips chasing feet commanding arms into a rhythmic frenzy until we just shimmer in the light and all eyes are on us.

We don’t do this stiff ballroom-dancing thing Americans do. I learned to dance in “el barrio,” with my teenaged neighbors when we were growing up, dancing Salsa with the Fania All Stars: Hector Lavoe, Ismael Rivera, Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz. No wonder I am a dancing star.

We dance like this, in our own dimension, until we remember we are the hosts of the party and go back to our duties.

 

My Metamorphosis

Dot Hearn

The tingling started in the middle of my palms but nothing had happened to them, safe in my pockets. Still, I couldn’t ignore the feeling so I pulled out the right one, which was feeling slightly warmer than the left. I splayed my fingers and turned the hand face up and there it was, the universe mapped out in stars with a red dot flashing.

I jumped back from the hand but it, of course, followed me. I skipped the stretching exercise and dashed out my left hand, noticing that it was not a star pattern but a hologram with a familiar yet unknown face, searching.

Searching for me?

I shook both hands, thinking I could erase the sensation and then decided to jump up and down to clear my head but I only felt worse.

And my left hand felt like it did if I was holding the Blackberry and someone called in except…

“Commander?” came a voice from my hand that I did not recognize.

No, I knew the voice but not from here, not from this place and…

“So, honey,” I heard Jasmine’s voice behind me. “I want to make this casserole for dinner tonight. ‘Cept I know you don’t like kale, which is the big ingredient, so I wanted to check with you. I mean, I don’t want you to go hungry or anything.” She paused.

I looked back, saw her now staring at me.

“Your color! What did you do?” She nearly shrieked.

It was then that I realized the other change was that my skin had taken on an aqua hue. No, not had taken on; that’s what it had always been before I tried to blend in to this place. This time. These people. To look like her, the human from earth with the bland pale skin and the rusty freckles and the need to eat things that grew from the ground.

“Commander? Are you okay?” the voice in my hand asked. I unclenched my palm. I stared at the pewter face and the lavender hair. “Are you ready?”

I looked at the face and remembered. I looked at Jasmine and remembered: She wasn’t coming with me. I’d been here too long and I had—feelings. Human earth feelings and I needed to go back to my own planet but it wasn’t going to be easy.

But I knew my metamorphosis had only begun and soon I wouldn’t be able to hide it from her, anyway.

 

These Are Not My People

Breezy Barcelo

Why did it take this long for me to realize?

It should have been obvious all along.

These are not my people.

This is not my land.

The discomfort I felt at what I was taught. Why is war even an option–I wondered all throughout childhood.

Where I am from there is no war—no rush for time or control.

The message came clearly to me—as I was painting, of all things. My daughter handed me a paintbrush dripping thick red paint onto the beige carpet. As I took it from her, I smiled. There was a new voice in my head:

“The tests you have passed… they are many. The difficult times you have endured… they are enough. You have proven your loyalty to your people, without even knowing we exist.”

I let the brush fall to the floor, red paint making a small splash.

“Mommy?”

“I’m okay!”

I stood up, ran out on to the deck.

“Mommy, I’m sorry about the paint mess.”

“It’s okay!” My thoughts were louder than I’d ever heard them before. Why now? Who are you? Who am I?

“Just know,” came that deep voice again, “know that there is a purpose in this mayhem. We will not pull you away until you know you are ready in every aspect, until you can let go of those you’ve come to love, until you have influenced those you were sent to influence and change what you’ve been sent to change. We just decided that you deserve to be aware now. No more questioning your existence. No more feeling alone in the universe. No more tears.”

 

Not In Front of Jesus

Jenny Forrester

My brother and I are sitting in the clouds. He just arrived.

“This can’t be heaven,” he says.

“No, it isn’t,” I say and he looks at my T-shirt because it says “Born Femi-Nazi.” We both laugh because of course that’s what I was wearing when I died. I have draped the chains that I used to lock myself to the gate at the local Nuclear power plant across my shoulders, adjusting them like they’re a fashion accessory.

We’re soon joined by our mom.

“You’re older than I am,” she says to us.

“You were younger when you died,” we say. “You look good, mama.”

She smiles, “I know.”

Jesus is a ways off, standing around digging his toes into the sand looking cool, but nervous. Our mama’s still got it.

“So,” my brother says, “It IS heaven?”

“Can’t be, brother, you’re a Republican and you’re here.”

“Jezebel.”

“Earth-killer.”

“Slut.”

“Baby-killer.”

“Please, you two,” Mom says, “Not in front of Jesus.”

Jesus has made his way over to us.

“Heaven,” he says, “Is anywhere your mother is.”

We all nod. The sky has turned to darkness and stars the way it used to be in the sky of the small town where mom raised us.

Carl Sagan floats by on an open-air spaceship, admirers surrounding him. “We are all made of star stuff,” he says.

Jesus and my brother roll their eyes.

A Story Suitable for Strangers

New Prose by Kate Dreyfus

“Mom, have you had this car checked lately?” I’ve been out of the country a year, so I have no idea, although I know the odds aren’t good.

“Maybe, maybe not!” she says, punching the words out like bullets.

We’re driving to Cummings Beach in my mother’s Plymouth Valient; my grandmother, mother, and me.

It’s early evening, July 13th, a Sunday. Tomorrow I’ll turn 23. My mother proposed this trip so she could say something meaningful. She’s big on birthdays. I’m not, and neither is my grandmother, but we do a lot of things to humor her.

I’m the driver. I have a long-standing rule of never getting in a motor vehicle if my mother is driving, due to her lack of interest in the rules of the road. She makes noises of objection to my driving her car, as a matter of principle, to defend her skills–but actually she doesn’t mind. She hates driving.

Today the temperature touched 100, and didn’t start to go down until just around 5:00. The AC doesn’t work, and I notice the idle is uneven when we’re stopped at the lights on the way south through downtown Stamford towards Shippan Avenue.

Looking in the rearview mirror, I see she’s staring out the window. She wears oversized sun glasses that cover her cheek bones, a Marimeko print mini-dress with black and white circles pierced by vertical black and white rectangles; white cotton Capris; and red patent leather high-heeled, backless sandals that I guess she thinks constitute walking shoes. My grandmother, who’s sitting beside her, has opted for a sporting look. She’s wearing a blue and white striped sailor shirt and a white sailor’s cap. She’s also got on white pants, although hers are full-length. I’m in jeans and a thin Indian cotton shirt with a floral print. The shirt is falling apart, especially at the arm pits, but I don’t care. I love this kind of cotton; the open weave, the faint, musty smell. I’ll just keep my arms down.

Even though it’s nearly six when we arrive, the beach parking lot is still half-full. I angle the Valient into a space. The lot is edged by quaking aspens, but the air is still, so their leaves, with the fragile stems, hang motionless.

My mother, as usual, takes a while to get out of the car. When she does, she’s lugging her oversized black leather pocket book, shaped like a grocery bag. I fight the urge to ask her if she really needs it. “Let’s go!” I say.

The walk to the beach is fairly easy, as the path is paved. Once we get to the sand, however, my mother’s in trouble, given those backless shoes. She takes a step, then another one, and sinks down. Her feet skid sideways out of the shoes, testing their red patent limits.

“Why don’t you take your shoes off, Mom? I already did.” It’s true, I’m carrying my sandals in one hand, with the ankle straps looped around my wrist like leather bracelets.

“I did too, Ruthie, see?” my grandmother adds, demonstrating her sandals, which she’s carrying the same way.

“I can take care of myself!” my mother snaps.

“Ruthie! Take off those shoes, before you hurt yourself!”

My mother frowns, and then reaches down to slip off her shoes. I keep an eye on her, just in case she tips over. She’s prone to tipping over, given her history of back surgery. But this time, she doesn’t. She slips the shoes in her purse, and we continue.

Ahead of us, light deflects off the sand and pier, with the fleeting touch of a skimming stone. The clouds are turning a brilliant orange, edged with streaks of fuschia and magenta—the products of the polluted air of Long Island Sound.

“This is far enough!” my mother suddenly announces, and at the same time, she collapses downward to the sand. My grandmother sits down to her left, and I take the other side.

“Well, does anyone have anything they want to share, on this lovely and most symbolic birthday eve?” my mother says, looking at me.

“I can’t think of anything right now.”

“Well, I have a story,” my grandmother says. “It’s about a man at 23 Peter Cooper Road.”

23 Peter Cooper Road is the address of my grandmother’s apartment complex on the lower east side. It’s a big brick structure, one of a cluster of towers, all built in the 1940s. Some, like my grandmother’s have views out to the Hudson River. They’re all rent-controlled, and there’s a long waiting list to get in. The fact that my grandmother’s baby sister Bea was already living there helped to get my grandmother in, when her second husband died ten years ago.

“Do you want to hear it?”

“Yes!” I say.

“Alright, then I’ll tell you. It’s about a man who lived in my building, a Mr. Tennison.”

Mr. Tennison, she explains, was a tall, thin man, not Jewish, not attractive, but well-dressed, who made a point of knowing everyone’s name, and saying hello to them–using their name–every time he saw them in the lobby, or elevator. There’s a wife, a shnooky wife, who seems very meek, who always wears a wig with a chiffon scarf tied around it. She’s always with him.

That’s just the preamble, though. Now that the characters are set, she launches in.

“Then one day, I got into the elevator, and there was a pleasant looking man I’d never seen before. So I said ‘nice day, isn’t it,’ or something pleasant like that, you know, general chit chat, and he couldn’t speak! Obviously, he was deaf, or mute, or something like that, because he pointed to his mouth, like this, you know?”

Here she pauses and jabs her left index finger emphatically at her mouth, several times. She’s still left-handed, even though the teachers tried to beat it out of her by rapping her hard across the knuckles with sticks if she used her left hand.

I’m left handed, like her. My mother, father, and brother are all righties.

“He pointed that way, because he couldn’t speak!” My grandmother looks back and forth at us, to make sure we are following.

I nod. I’m working hard to hold down the start of a smile on my face, and to keep it from being a full-on grin. That would irritate my grandmother, and then she would stop talking. No, first she would say something like: “All right, I can see that no one is taking me seriously, and I’m going to stop right here.” And then she would stop talking.

My mother nods, too, but there’s no spirit to it. My grandmother’s stories tend to irritate her.

As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing in the world that’s better than one of my grandmother’s stories. They’re like Aesops’ fables—but with a Jewish, immigrant, slightly surreal, spin.

Sometimes I wonder if the fact that English is her second language–learned after Yiddish–has something to do with it. Would these stories, perhaps, come out differently, in Yiddish? But I’ll never know. I don’t speak Yiddish. And my grandmother claims that she doesn’t either.

“Well, when we got out of the elevator at the lobby, there was this Mr. Tennison. Of course, he was with his wife, because as I’ve already told you, they are always together. The man who had been in the elevator with me walked out of the building, and I went over to my mailbox, to check my mail.”

“Well, Mr. Tennison followed me over. ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Rogin,’ he said. ‘Do you know if something is wrong with that man? I always say hello to him, but he never says anything! Do you know if something is wrong with him?’”

My grandmother stops again, and looks at us carefully, to see if we are still following. Then she adds, as if she’s translating for us: “You see, he was upset, that someone didn’t say hello to him! Can you imagine?”

My mother can’t help herself. “Mother, get on with the story, please! What is it you’re trying to say?”

“Well, alright, Ruthie, I’m getting to the point! I just tell you this by way of background! You see, he’s a busy-body! Nosy! He wants to know everyone’s business, he says hello to everyone, so why doesn’t this fellow say hello to him? Because he can’t speak, you see? That’s why!”

Now my mother doesn’t say anything. I know she’s working hard to keep quiet because she’s afraid that if she says anything, this story will keep looping and looping, and we’ll still be sitting on the beach after the moon has risen.

My grandmother looks at her, and then at me. Her thin grey eyebrows are raised slightly, and she’s doing that, neck cocking owl-stare thing that teachers like to do to quiet a class down.

We are both very quiet.

“So. I said to him,”–and here she sits up just a little straighter, which she always does when she pulls on her “suitable for strangers “voice–’Why Mr. Tennison! That man didn’t say hello to you because I don’t think he can speak!’ And I said it to him in a very cold voice, because I think he’s terrible, so full of himself! He has to speak to everyone in the building, you know, be involved in everything.”

“Some time goes by, and I notice that I see his wife alone in the lobby and elevator. Now, this is a change, because before, they were always together, everywhere they went! Well, one day I say I say to her, ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Tennison, but I can’t help but notice that you’ve been alone lately, and before, I used to always see you with your husband. Will you tell me, is everything all right? Is he well?”

“And she said ‘Oh no, Mrs. Rogin, I’m afraid he is not well. He is quite ill, he’s in the hospital, and the doctors just don’t know if he’ll make it.’”

My grandmother stops, and bows her head slightly, as if she is weighed down by the enormity of it all. Then she rises up again.

“You see, he collapsed! All of a sudden, just like that! And not too long after that, he dies! So what do you think of that!”

With that, she splays both palms upwards and outward, fingers to the sky. This signifies the end of the story.

My mother frowns. She’s peeved. “So mother, what’s the point? I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

I try to help out. “Grandma, are you trying to say that nosy people drop dead?”

Now my grandmother is peeved. “All—I’m—saying—is! This is a man who wanted to know everyone’s business! Always saying hello to everyone”–and here she mimics, with a pinchy nosed-squeaky voice–”‘hello hello hello!’ And now, all of a sudden, he’s in the hospital, and he’s dead!”

My mother’s still drilling down for the truth, or a better version of it. A version that follows all the standard principles of essay writing, perhaps: An opening thesis. Several expository paragraphs, to build out core ideas. Then, a conclusion.

“Mother, I think there’s more to this than you’re telling us. Was there something else about the man you didn’t like? Are you taking it out of context?”

“Ruthie! That’s all there is. I’ve told you all there is.”

There’s quiet now. The sun has set, but twilight still lights the beach.

“Thanks for the story, Gram.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Shall we go now, and get some dinner?” my mother suggests.

We rise, and shake the sand from our clothes. Then we turn, and walk back towards the parking lot.

As we walk, behind us, the sound of the ocean falls away to a whisper.

Then even the whisper is gone. There’s a breeze now, soft, but still cooling. Ahead of us, I can see the silvery leaves of the aspen trees turning, and then turning back, as if nothing, or everything, holds them in place.

Kate Dreyfus blends phantoms from her Jewish shtetl past with spirits of her Portland present.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

New Prose by Ann Rogers-Williams

From three blocks away you can spot them in one little huddle, gently holding on to each other’s sleeves as they slowly weave their way down Main Street. Ella, Marge and Cele navigate their way around the uneven terrain of the sidewalk pushed up by the roots of great old Chestnut trees. Cele is always in front with her walker slowing the other two down, but they never seem to mind as they chatter their way down the street—ever mindful of tripping hazards. They maneuver around them as if they were dodging land mines.

“Ooh, there’s lots of chestnuts on the ground today,” Ella says.

“Watch out for that one,” says Cele, the leader, as she rolls over the cracks of broken pavement.

Marge brings up the rear, her baby bird tufts of unruly white hair blowing crazily in the slight breeze.

All three ladies are in their mid-80s. Strong survivors of war, recession, labor disputes, parenthood, pestilence, bad food, and bad boyfriends. They are full of wonderful transparency and guilelessness in some respects, and they share a gift for weaving such dramatic stories out of the most mundane things. One of the greatest gifts they’ve ever given me and each other is their love of storytelling.

Out of courtesy to the listener they might begin their story with “Did I ever tell you this?” Or, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” Or, “I might be repeating myself when I tell you this, but…” There’s always a brief stall of embarrassment at the beginning but quickly the momentum of the story just takes over. I’ve never yet heard them say, “Oh, so you did hear this one before.” And stop there.

And even though it’s often the same story, there’s always something new in it. A catch in the voice. A change in a detail. A missed sequence. The same story is never the same.

Today, they are preparing for the annual Solstice event at our church. They have been working on this event for weeks. Sending out flyers, organizing the potluck refreshments, decorating the church, scheduling the Sunday school singers and, this year, dancers for the event. There’s plenty to pull off but they know what they are doing—they’ve been doing this for years.

Every year people come from the community on December 21st or 22nd, depending on the year, to participate in the Solstice celebration. Ella, Cele, and Marge usually preside over the festivities, which consist of a presentation by the Unitarian minister about the tradition of Solstice followed by music, followed by a verse and a ritual where people basically call out what they’d like to leave behind in the darkness, followed by dancing through and around the church, followed by food.

The three of them are sitting around a table tying garlands and laughing about what was left in the darkness last solstice as if they are digging through last year’s trash.

“Well, you know how people can be so somber about calling out things that they’d like to leave behind.” Says Ella, her fingers winding wire around the ends of a garland they are all working on.

“Yeah, it’s usually stuff like petty jealousy or bigger stuff like war, racism… You know, the serious things,” says, Cele, reaching for more wire and thread.

“My favorite was when some guy called out ‘I’d like to leave about 30 pounds in the darkness,’ Marge laughs.

They all laugh then, even though this happened five years ago and they’ve all heard this story at least as many times.

“Ooh, I wish I’d thought of that,” says Cele, patting her hip. “I’ve got a few generous portions to give to the darkness myself.”

Marge goes on about that night, describing how the man looked and how the whole congregation laughed and how such a small gesture just made things seem a little friendlier from then on. They spend the whole afternoon drinking decaf and laughing and retelling old stories.

At one point Cele announces to me that the three of them have known each other since they were in elementary school and that sometimes they forget who’s memory is whose. “But,” she said pulling on my sleeve, “I’ll tell you a little secret about stories, dear.”

I lean in closer to give her my full attention.

“Life is a spiral.”

“What?”

“Life. It’s a spiral. Get it?”

“OK? Not really?”

“It means, dear, that our stories will never get old as long as somebody’s there to love them in a new way each time they come around,” Ella chimes in.

“Our stories will never get old,” Marge repeats.

And yours’ won’t either.

Ann Rogers-Williams is a writer, artist and student living in Portland, Oregon.  Originally from L.A. by way of Massachusetts, her stories reflect her appreciation for diversity within American culture and the wide spectrum of gifts that people of all ages bring to the table.

Time to sign up for Moe Bowstern’s writing class

Tell Me a Story….Then Write it Down

Draw from the art of oral storytelling to enhance your written work / Learn to perform your stories with ease at public readings.

Taught by Moe Bowstern

March 3 – April 21

Right here online in the Literary Kitchen! Moe rarely teaches online. This is a great opportunity.

Jazz up your storytelling by taking this 8-week course with Moe Bowstern, longtime Fisher Poet, editor of Xtra Tuf zine and story developer for various puppet show extravaganzas, most recently Paper Eclipse Puppet Company.

We’ll spend the weeks heading into spring honing the vernacular language of oral storytelling, with the goal of transforming told tales into written stories while preserving the vitality of the storyteller’s art.

With quick writes and regular assignments, Moe will help you find your voice and the truth of your story.

For those interested, we’ll also devote class time to taking the developed work from the written page onto the stage for performance.

You can read and listen to Moe Bowstern’s stories right here: http://www.inthetote.com/moe-bowstern.html

The cost for the 8-week class is $275. A $75 deposit holds your spot. Sign up early as class-size in strictly limited!

“The honest story, the true story (fact or fiction) is a gift offered. It’s a hand held out. ‘Hello, this is who I am, you and I both live here.‘ I like the way Moe holds her hand out, and I like her voice. It’s quiet, kind and funny, and it rings true. And the stories she tells take me to the damndest places! This world she and I and you live in, it’s always bigger and weirder than we could possibly know if we didn’t have our story-tellers.”

–Ursula K. LeGuin

 

* * *

we are mirrors mocking ourselves

by Milcah Halili Orbacedo

Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.
—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carol

I love this woman who doesn’t know I love her. Well, she knows, but she doesn’t understand, which means she doesn’t, k(no)w. She knows that I have feelings, but the extent of those feelings and how true they are are questionable when you have a mind like hers. I—and my feelings—am invalid.

When she is too heavy, everyone around her is crazy. Because the only reason why they would be around is because they are crazy with heavy too. I am sure this is the way she sees it.

The way I see it, I am light with heavy when I am around her. Her heavy curls around me and knocks at my chest and screams in my face and tells me TO BREATHE! Her heavy reminds me that my heavy is not so heavy and quite silly, in fact.


Her heavy looks like this: We wake up in the morning with east and west facing lips. I wake up and wonder if we ever face each other while we rest. She wakes up with her back feeling the faint heat of me. I inch forward. She heaves. She does not tell me with her words to keep space. I feel an energetic barrier. I do not know where I begin and end. She turns to lie on her back. Another heave hooked with a sigh. She blinks at the ceiling. I feel my heat gaining momentum in her direction. She emits cold, does not return my reaching hand, and upon contact with her skin my hot cools. Her skin is eleven degrees lower than my fingertips. She complains that she cannot stay with me in bed. She has to get up for school she says. She barely looks at me, as if still in a hazy dream, and with rushed hands and a tight chest she gathers all her things. I close my eyes, fold the blanket over my mouth, and touch myself.

Her heavy makes me cry sometimes.

((Her center of gravity on my chest, her weight on me, so heavy, so much heavier than mine. How could my center withstand her center’s hold? Get out of my head get back in my body how to breathe with her skin touching my skin like slow burn roasting my smokey soul. Breathe through your diaphragm, not your chest!))

My love for her is like the slow crawl of a Southern drawl, and she’s sexy just like one. She is poetry. Her form is in her curves, in her roundness. In how wide her hips cry, I want to open myself there. I want to crawl into her thick, warm places and fit myself to her, in the curves, in her wide. Wide is how she makes me feel. She is big, bigger than life. I wouldn’t have her any other way.

I wanted to tell her, Actions speak louder than words, but what came out was, Words speak louder than actions, which wasn’t true at all, so I don’t know why I said it to her. She would have thought that my uttering Actions would have been applicable to me, but I was really talking about her and her actions, the ones that never really lined up with her Words. She’s always been incongruous of the body and mind, kind of like the split in her personality. Kind of like the waves of her emotions she tosses me into the sea of it. I am a platter; hot and cold. I wish she would toss me in her oven and keep me there, but I’m afraid she’d forget to take me out and I would burn.

Sometimes I want to tell her that I’d like to massage her shoulders while she grades papers, that I’d wait for her happily as she makes her way home from school. That, I wanna be your housewife, even when you’re down and out, CocoRosie style. I’d shine her shoes and everything. I’d pretend to be like Stan, a grown-up, old man with her.

I can’t forget her eyes, and her eyes travel me even when I don’t mean them to, when I’d rather her engage with the person she is being talked to because that would be more comfortable. I wonder what it is she is thinking when she stares at me.

You can’t ask a person why they are doing something when you know it yourself that they don’t know it themselves. You both pretend to split off into a face that is more socially acceptable, or what you think the other person wants. You both know why it is you are doing whatever you are doing, but you also know that what you want consciously and what you want subconsciously are two separate things. And they don’t always match.

Attack. She attacked me in the quietest and simplest of ways. So I attacked back, but loud and complex. A flex instead of a strain; it has become a reflex over time because I have become too accustomed to guarding myself. I’ve let the softness of my youth fade away, and, in trying to be all Grown Up and Professional and Chill, I’ve masked my true self in blues. I want to let down my armor, replace it with something cliche as a flower and say, It is cliche but cliches last forever and that’s how long I want to be with you.

I want to love you for forever.

Then I read what White Rabbit said.

Milcah Halili Orbacedo is a writer and filmmaker in Oakland, California. She performs for Kink.com in San Francisco and volunteers at Small Press Distribution in Berkeley. Milcah can also be found seasonally in Portland, Oregon. Her main priorities are hanging out with families and having fun.

Spring classes with Moe Bowstern & Ariel Gore

I was at a loss after finishing my MFA program… But after eight years of infrequent publishing and no time to write, I found an alternative that works for me. Three years ago I hooked up with Ariel Gore’s online Literary Kitchen workshops and finally found a group that was the right fit for me: writers not full of privilege (and themselves) who offer honest criticism and support at the same time, and whose work I truly enjoy reading. And that infrequent publishing? It’s not so infrequent anymore.

—Margaret Garcia, Poets & Writers


* * *

Tell Me a Story….Then Write it Down

Draw from the art of oral storytelling to enhance your written work / Learn to perform your stories with ease at public readings.

Taught by Moe Bowstern

March 3 – April 21

Right here online in the Literary Kitchen! Moe rarely teaches online. This is a great opportunity.

Jazz up your storytelling by taking this 8-week course with Moe Bowstern, longtime Fisher Poet, editor of Xtra Tuf zine and story developer for various puppet show extravaganzas, most recently Paper Eclipse Puppet Company.

We’ll spend the weeks heading into spring honing the vernacular language of oral storytelling, with the goal of transforming told tales into written stories while preserving the vitality of the storyteller’s art.

With quick writes and regular assignments, Moe will help you find your voice and the truth of your story.

For those interested, we’ll also devote class time to taking the developed work from the written page onto the stage for performance.

You can read and listen to Moe Bowstern’s stories right here: http://www.inthetote.com/moe-bowstern.html

The cost for the 8-week class is $275. A $75 deposit holds your spot. Sign up early as class-size in strictly limited!

“The honest story, the true story (fact or fiction) is a gift offered. It’s a hand held out. ‘Hello, this is who I am, you and I both live here.‘ I like the way Moe holds her hand out, and I like her voice. It’s quiet, kind and funny, and it rings true. And the stories she tells take me to the damndest places! This world she and I and you live in, it’s always bigger and weirder than we could possibly know if we didn’t have our story-tellers.”

–Ursula K. LeGuin

 

* * *

Lit Star Training

The Original Literary Kitchen Online Writing Workshop

Taught by Ariel Gore

April 12 – June 10

 

 

A new session of Lit Star Training — the 8-week+ writing course taught by Ariel Gore — starts April 12th. Writers in Lit Star Training spend at least a few hours each week on their writing and online critiques. You can log in any time of the day or night. Writers in the group are new and seasoned, wanting to work on memoir or fiction. The class works as well for those writing to weekly assignments (with no big projects in mind) and for people who are starting or working on existing book projects.

The class is $285 — a $90 deposit will hold your spot. You can pay the deposit right here:

 

* * *

Ariel Gore is a fabulous workshop facilitator; I’ve been taking classes from her since 2001. In each of the workshops, she brings together a diverse group of writers with varying degrees of competency; and, whether the writer is seasoned or a beginner, she understands exactly where each person is coming from and she meets them there. Not only did I find my unique voice, I learned how to be a thoughtful listener and how to provide insightful critique. I would recommend her workshops to anyone interested in memoir and the art of a good story.

—Lani Jo Leigh

 

Ariel’s workshops jumpstarted my psyche. I’m back into looking at the world as a writer instead of as a would-be writer. I have her to thank for that. Workshops are almost at your own pace. Always encouraging. She has a knack for assembling a great group of writers together every time.

—Margaret Elysia Garcia

 

Ariel Gore’s writing workshop pushed me past the borders of my creativity and into an exciting unknown place of writing within myself. If you’ve ever put to pen to paper and wondered what you were really capable of Ariel’s workshop will take you there.

—Gabrielle Rivera

 

I thoroughly enjoy Ariel’s workshops. Writers from a variety of backgrounds gather together, bringing in work with all kinds of themes, and as each piece is workshopped, Ariel’s ear for the crucial aspects of great storytelling kicks right in. Her feedback is thoughtful, insightful, precise, and multilayered.

—Bonnie Ditlevsen

 

When I started writing with Ariel I had zero idea how to write for audience. In work shopping with her, I have found my voice and with practice have found different ways to formulate story. I have learned how to incorporate dialogue and am so much more confident with my work. I recommend this workshop to all aspiring, practicing, and practiced writers.

—Krystee Sidwell

 

New Year’s Eve Y2K

New poetry by Bonnie Ditlevsen

 

We’re brushing up on saying 
Felice anno nuovo
like real Italians will wish one another tonight

and I was glad to leave our chilly room 
in the penzione, because it’s true 
what they say about accommodations

in Rome. They pretty much suck 
for the money. They take you back 
to some sort of wartime-era, 

black-and-white movie set: Sophia
Loren wringing her hands, looking distraught. 
Mascara and distress and crumbling

stucco façades. We walk rather than
attempting to use public transportation,
thick crowds of revelers already

filling Rome’s streets. We three are
on a mission: drink the wine in
our backpacks, and save our prosecco

for right at the stroke of midnight,
because who knows where we’ll be
after the computers around the world

hit two-zero-zero-zero?
See Rome and die
takes on a whole new meaning

tonight. Like that splendid carriage
Cinderella was supposed to ride
home in. What’s the Italian for

turn into a pumpkin?
The throngs of partiers along the Via del Corso, 
laughing, embracing, arm in arm, many

in dressy leather jackets and smart, thick scarves
wrapped ever so stylishly twice around their necks
like loosened turbans 

make their way to where we’re heading:
the Piazza del Popolo and
the Egyptian obelisk of Rameses II.

No one ever said that the three of us
were that original in our travel plans. Just going
with the flow. With the “All Roads Lead To.”

I swig my wine, cork it, stuff the bottle
into George’s backpack and he pauses
and he and Simon and I are by a subway entrance.

I look down. It’s past 8 pm and at the foot
of the concrete stairway I see rows of
sleeping people, Albanians, maybe

Bulgarians, many of them men,
lying there crammed side by side like sardines 
atop blankets, cocooned against the cold in yet more

blankets. Seeking to rest after another barren day
spent just surviving. This, another face of my
Roman winter holiday. Y2K is coming and

they’re sleeping and I’m drinking and we’re drinking
while walking and we’re worrying about the future and 
we’re not exactly joyous, though we’re heading for joy,

and all the while, in the dark of our backpacks,
three bottles of cheap prosecco await their simple-physics fate
to greedy pairs of hands, fumbling fingers.

Bonnie Ditlevsen is a full-time solo parent and student of classical singing in Portland. She curates a weekly reading series of poetry & flash prose as part of her work with the online literary magazine Penduline.

Comfort Food

Green Bean Casserole

New prose by Jessica Lawless 

 

1 bag frozen French cut green beans

1 can Durkee’s French fried onions

1 can Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup

¾ cup of milk

Pepper to taste

 

Preheat oven to 350. Mix everything together except the Durkee’s onions. Pour in half the onions mix, and bake concoction for 30 minutes. Pour rest of onions on top and bake for 5 more minutes

 

My mom didn’t cook. Much. She had a few specialties, hamburgers on a bun–where she spread the raw meat on the enriched white buns and put them under the broiler, haroset at Passover, matzoh ball soup from a box at Hanukkah, and green bean casserole on Thanksgiving.

She stopped making all of these when I was sixteen.

That’s when she started a macrobiotic diet.

I wasn’t going to give up the French fried onions so I took over making the green bean casserole.

 

Years later, even though I wasn’t on speaking terms with my family I still made the casserole.

I brought it to my first queer family alternative Thanksgiving. We had the meal on the Saturday after Thanksgiving as a protest against the racist, colonialist, nationalist, patriarchal holiday. Everything was vegan and locally grown.

Fresh green beans

Fresh Portobello mushrooms

Fresh Garlic

Fresh thyme

Fresh sage

Rice milk

 

Measure and mix everything to taste. Bake for 30 minutes. Crumble gluten free tapioca bread across the top and bake for 10 more minutes.

I’ve been on speaking terms with my mom for longer than I wasn’t. Though the thing we can talk about without tension is our cats. I haven’t been to her house for Thanksgiving in over twenty years but we do talk menus. She buys the Tofurkey from her local co-op and heats it up. I make the green bean casserole.

 

Fresh green beans

Fresh mushrooms

Sautee in vegan mushroom soup

Dried sage and thyme

Fresh rosemary

Almond milk

 

Mix ingredients together. Add in one can of French’s French fried onions. Bake for 30 minutes. While casserole is baking eat half of the second can of French’s French fried onions. Add other half of can of onions to top of casserole Bake 7 more minutes. Take digestive enzymes to deal with onion allergy.