Two Powerhouse Portland Literary Community Builders

A.M. O’Malley has been the Program Director and Certificate Program Director at the Independent Publishing Resource Center, a literary arts non-profit in Portland, Oregon, since 2007.

 

 

 

Martha Grover is the author of One More for the People (Perfect Day Publishing), and has been publishing her zine, Somnambulist, for ten years.

 

A.M. and Martha got together to talk about what it’s like to build community through storytelling.

 

 

M: You’ve made the IPRC your hub for many years, but you also teach in a men’s prison and at PCC. How do these other teaching jobs inform the work you do at the IPRC?

A.M.: The work I do at the Prison is actually an IPRC program. There’s a publishing element that really defines that project. I also offer my former students a membership to the IPRC when they’re released from prison. The IPRC really supported me when I spearheaded that project, which is a blessing, because it takes a lot of time and effort. As for the PCC classes, for the most part, they are all taught at the IPRC in partnership with PCC and are a way for the PCC community education population to check out the IPRC and use its resources. I have had a lot of autonomy to build what my job looks like over the last eight years. I am a teacher first and an arts administrator/program director second, and all of that somehow fits under the umbrella of empowering folks to tell their stories which is what I feel passionate about.

M: What does community mean to you? Can building community be a goal in and of itself?

A.M.: Man, oh, man! This is a big question. I feel that community is a really important aspect of being a creative person–whether you’re a visual artist, writer or performer–because the community offers a mirror, a support network and a reminder that you aren’t just shouting into a well. It’s a chance to connect which is essential because so much of creating, for me, is a solitary occupation.

M: One of the skills I’ve noticed in you is that you are a great networker – meaning, you always try to help connect people you know with opportunities that would help them. If we were in the 1950s, I can picture you sitting at your desk with three telephones on it and the biggest rolodex you’ve ever seen, calling people up and connecting them with other people. Is this something that is premeditated or does it come naturally as an element of your personality?

A.M.: Ha! I do really like to make connections between people I think would work well together. I think I do it out of a natural matchmaker instinct. It doesn’t stop with working life, it carries forward into friends and family too. I like to start things and organize things. My husband would say that is because I like to boss people but I like to think I have a natural talent for organizing.

M: Can you talk a little bit about the projects you are working on right now? What was doing the kickstarter like?

A.M.: The Kickstarter was a wonderful moment when I realized that I have a wide and supportive community. It was humbling and heart warming. I am working on taking a trip to Vietnam to research my estranged father’s tour of duty there in 1972. Writing about his absence from my life and the long-lasting impact of war on future generations will hopefully be the last section of my book-in-progress. I have also been writing a long epistolary poem to my brother who has a developmental disability from oxygen deprivation at birth.

M: How does working in the Portland literary scene help or hinder your own writing?

A.M.: I have to be very careful about time management and balancing work and my own time. It is difficult to be a facilitator of other people’s creativity and expression and also have energy left to facilitate my own creativity and expression. That said, in many ways I feel indebted to the IPRC for injecting me into the center of a vibrant and thriving literary scene. I know a lot of writers and that is due in a big part to my work at the IPRC.

M: How do you find that balance between facilitating other’s work and having the energy to do your own stuff?

A.M.: It is indeed hard, I tell my students to pay attention to every piece of criticism they hear in writing workshop, whether it’s directed at their work or not, and think about it when they are revising their own work. This advice is something I try to follow as well. I think the act of talking, teaching and thinking writing does, in the end, help my writing.

A.M.: You’ve been making Somambulist Zine for years now, how has that project evolved over the years? Do you make the zine for the same reasons? Have your feelings about it changed?

M: I started Somnambulist Zine on a whim. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. At first, it was exhilarating to get my work out there and to have readers. Over the last ten years, I have asked myself these same questions: Why am I doing this? Does it still matter? But this last year, volunteering for the Portland Zine Symposium, I was just really overwhelmed by the amount of joy and meaning I still get from producing my work and being part of that community.

Something I keep coming back to is that, firstly, the zine is always a place that I can try out new ideas and it’s better than a blog or a website, because it feels special and contained. And secondly, I’ve really grown to appreciate my audience: the people who subscribe to my zine year after year and look forward to getting it in the mail. That’s my audience, and I feel like I write the zine for them. When I got really sick with Cushing’s Disease, it became apparent that, partly because of the zine, I had built myself this life raft. I knew that there were people out there I’d never met who cared about me! It was an amazing and humbling experience. Anyway, I have fallen in and out of love with doing Somnambulist, but it’s lasted longer than any relationship I’ve had in the past, so that is saying something!

A.M.: Your work is incredibly honest and revealing–which is part of why I’m such a huge fan. What advice would you give to the apprentice writer who is afraid of being too vulnerable on the page?

M: In a lot of “guidebooks to writing” etc., they always say something like “Write what you are afraid to write,” however; when teaching, it’s not my job to tell people what to write about. Everyone has their own path. It’s funny because that lack of honesty and vulnerability always shows up in the work. It’s flat, or boring, or doesn’t make sense. In discussion of the work however, the truth always comes out! The student will say, “Well, I wrote it this way because I feel that I have trust issues…” (or something like that.)  And they usually come to the realization that their fears and vulnerabilities are the real driving force behind their writing. If you’re not getting into that stuff, then what’s the point? That’s what makes it interesting. So I guess my advice would be: resistance is futile! In the end, you’ll end up writing the stuff you were too scared to write.

A.M.: Have you ever had negative pushback from people you’ve written about? If so, how do you respond to that?

M: I get negative feedback all the time! I just had a discussion today with my sister about what was okay to share on my website and what wasn’t. I figure as long as you don’t approach it from an extreme point of view, then you are being respectful. For instance, I don’t believe I have the RIGHT to write about anyone, in any manner, that I want, and on the other hand, I’m not so scared of other peoples’ reactions that I am going freeze up and not write at all.

A.M. : Is there anything you want to talk about or are excited about that I haven’t touched on?

M: I run a monthly storytelling event at Tad’s Chicken ‘n’ Dumplins on the Sandy River in Troutdale, OR. It’s been a lot of fun and it has really helped me build a little community around this event. I have made connections in the stand-up, acting, education and music communities. It’s been awesome, and very gratifying.

More about A.M.: ‪A.M. O’Malley has been writing and publishing on various planes since 1994. She has recently been published in The Newer York, Poor Claudia, Phenome, UnShod Quills, The Burnside Review, in the anthology Untangling the Knot (Ooligan Press), Jerk Poet, and The Portland Review. Ms. O’Malley teaches writing at the Columbia River Correctional Institution as a Writers in the Schools Resident Artist and at Portland Community College.

More about Martha: You can read more of Martha’s work and buy a subscription to her zine at : somnambulistzine.com, P.O, Box 14871, Portland, Oregon 97293

Sage Adderley, Sweet Candy Distro and Press

Sage Adderley runs Sweet Candy Distro and Press which features over 200 zine titles, books, and a variety of DIY items. She the author of the perzines, Marked for Life, Tattooed Memoirs, Eye Candy Magazine, and FAT-TASTIC, a body-positive zine. She published her first book, a YA novel called Invoking Nonna, last winter.

Who are you? What do you do/what have you written/published, do you have a blog, etc.?

I’m a mom to three humans and two cats, an artist, a zinester, a witchy lady, a writer, a publisher, and a publicist.

At Sage’s Blog Tours, I help authors sell their books. I run an online promotional company called Sage’s Blog Tours.

I am resurrecting the blog on my website: sageadderley.com

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?

There is nothing regular about my routine. With kids, I have to write when I can, which is not much. If I want to accomplish anything (oh, but I do!) I have to schedule writing into my schedule. I enjoy writing in the mornings. Usually during or after my first cup of coffee. I like quiet. I like my apartment. I’m not a public writer.

What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?

You must have something clever inside of your imagination that you are dying to share with others, some thing that you need to weave into an interesting plot with colorful characters. You also need thick skin.

What motivates you to write?

I have to write. I don’t recall there ever being a time that I wasn’t writing – letters, diary entries, zines, and now fiction stories. It’s what I am here to do.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

Yeah, sadly I have those times where I stare at my blank computer screen. I just roll with it. I don’t force anything, but I do try to jump-start the creative juices by doing small art projects or writing postcards or letters. If all else fails, I take lots of naps and do some self-care things until I can hop back into my writing pants.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write as much as you can. Even if you’re only jotting down ideas or dialogue. And read. Challenge yourself to read outside of your comfort zone. Prepare yourself to make mistakes and be open to critiques.

What is/are the message(s) in your writing work? What are your readers’ reactions to it?

I want to write about taboo things and shed light on them. I’m a weirdo and like to write about the outsiders of the world. They are who I relate to.

I’ve received some really positive feedback about my book. Readers seem to enjoy that I didn’t focus on teen romance and instead wrote about the dynamics between a mother and daughter. I also think people liked the fact that I wrote about witchcraft in a truthful and realistic way.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Oh, yes. I learned that I should have taken more time in the editing process. Nothing is more heart wrenching than printing your book and finding errors. After reading my first print copy and finding a few typos, I was depressed on my couch for two days. I felt horrible, but then I reminded myself that I wrote a book. I didn’t talk about it or plan it – I did it and nothing is perfect. Bestselling authors from around the world have errors in their book. We’re human. Mistakes happen. You learn from them and use that on your next project.

What are your current / future projects?

I am currently working on my second book. It’s the next book in my Triple Goddess Series. I am super excited about sharing more of Maggie’s story.

I’m also working on the fifth title for Sweet Candy Press – Ofrenda: A Zine Anthology by Celia Perez. It’s a compilation of snippets from Celia’s past 20 years of zine writing! I am so excited about this project. Celia Perez has been one of my favorite zinesters and I was honored when she approached me about publishing her work.

Here is a link to the Indiegogo campaign where you can learn more about Ofrenda, scoop up one of the many awesome perks we’re offering or simply preorder yourself a copy: http://bit.ly/1usTuCT

What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?

I grew up reading Ann M. Martin, V.C. Andrews and Stephen King. I thank them for introducing me to the magical world of books. As a writer, I find myself being influenced by Sylvia Plath, Tomas Moniz, Henry Rollins, Ariel Gore, and Kathy Cano-Murillo. I resonate with their writer’s voice.

 

Milcah Halili Orbacedo Interviews Wendy C. Ortiz

 

Wendy C. Ortiz’s searing new memoir of growing up in Southern California in the ’80s and ’90s, Excavation, unearths the complicated legacy her five-year relationship with her charming and flawed teacher 15 years her senior. Her teacher — now a registered sex offender — encouraged her passion for writing while making her promise not to leave any written account of their dangerous sexual relationship. Excavation is just out from Future Tense.

You could make multiple twitter accounts from the different voices you use in your writing. In the business world, lacking a singular voice makes one less marketable. What drives you to write in your multiple voices when writing in a more singular voice may promote more traditional success?

If I stuck to one voice when in reality I contain a multiplicity of voices I wouldn’t feel like I’ve maintained the integrity of my work (and possibly my identities). Writing memoir specifically, it feels essential to me to unleash as many of the voices as possible (the ones I have access to, anyway). I also prefer a world where our multiple identities are given free range—which flies in the face of a singular voice and making one’s self “more” or “less” marketable. (The 28 year old in me is reading this going, Just how “marketable” have you ever been, and has being marketable ever really motivated you? for example.)

Excavation: a Memoir was just released this summer by Future Tense Books. Your next book, Hollywood Notebook, will be published by Writ Large Press in fall/winter. Will you offer readers of Hollywood Notebook a voice similar to Excavation? What should we expect next?

Hollywood Notebook takes place in Los Angeles after I’d spent eight years in Olympia, Washington in two separate serial monogamist relationships. I landed in my studio apartment in Hollywood, single, living alone for the first time in years. The voice spans the ages of twenty-eight to thirty-three and is very much influenced by the books, people, music, and experiences of that time. I call it a prose poem-ish memoir, as it contains eighty-some short chapters in the form of paragraphs, lists, and stream-of-consciousness passages.

After Hollywood Notebook I’m interested in returning to other works-in-progress: a book of music-themed essays, poetry centered on my mother and grandmother and our entwined relationships, a memoir based on my Modern Love column, and a memoir about the period in Olympia between the ages of 20-28 which I think of as a long gestation, and some other secret things.

If you could blend two of your voices together from any of your works (On the Trail of Mary Jane, Excavation, your essays at The Nervous Breakdown or Specter, etc.) which two voices would complement each other the most? Do you have a masterplan to eventually merge all your voices? Or you do enjoy the compartmentalization?

I’m fond of the voices that find themselves in my fiction (like “Black Car Land” in Specter, and some other fiction I’m working on)—there’s a starkness to the voices I feel both comfortable and very uncomfortable with. In some ways I blend the voices together when I put two stories next to one another, as I’m doing now with some fiction. The themes start to emerge from placing the work together and paying attention to whether the voices are complementary or not. The only master plan I have to is to see where the voices go, any of them, all of them.

No matter the voice, your writing is always very corporeal and visceral. You are very generous when it comes to material and emotional details, and it balances out very well. What are the physical drives that take you to the corporeal and visceral in your writing? What about the body and the emotions it manifests inspires you to write in such a way?

As someone who has struggled, then learned, then forgot, then remembered to stay in her body most of her life, focusing in on the corporeal and visceral feels necessary. It’s also what I enjoy about some of my favorite writers, how they bring me back to my body with their texts.

What would you say is the over-arching theme of your writing, the heart of your work?

I hesitate to say there’s one over-arching theme. If we think of a heart, the human heart with its four chambers, I might say abandonment (from others, of others, and of self); embodiment (of identities that help one to survive, however ‘survive’ is identified); exploration and troubling of the idea that there are only two sides to every story (which I don’t believe—I think there are many); and transformation. (It’s important to note that this is what I think today; if you asked me this yesterday or ask me tomorrow, the answer might differ. It’s not always static.)

Oakland Queer: An Anthology edited by Ariel Gore

Call for submissions

In the tradition of the LAMBDA Award-winning anthology Portland Queer: Tales Of The Rose City, emerges a new anthology to celebrate queer Oakland. We’re seeking character-driven, first person queer narratives set in Oakland, California.

Stories may be fiction or memoir or hybrid, set in any decade, but should have a clear Oakland connection — neighborhood-centric stories especially appreciated – growing up in Oakland, adventures in queer Oakland, moving to Oakland, raising kids in Oakland, work, art, falling in and out of love, finding and losing home, punk houses, band shows, regular urban life. What is your Oakland queer story?


Submission Deadline February 1


Please send submissions to arielgoremedia@gmail.com or to:

Ariel Gore ℅ Hip Mama

P.O. Box 3555

Berkeley, CA, 94703

Spitboy: An Interview with Michelle Gonzales, by Breezy Barcelo

I recently had the lucky chance of interviewing Michelle Gonzales, author of Pretty Bold For a Mexican Girl: Growing up in a Hick Town, former drummer and lyricist of the 1990s female punk band Spitboy, and creator of the zine Spitboy Rule. Check it out!

 

On the first page of your zine, you mention that being in Spitboy was one of the most formative experiences of your life – that you gained confidence, self-knowledge, etc. When did you realize that?

Michelle: I think I knew all along that I was gaining these things: I especially remember getting really comfortable during interviews, speaking articulately and confidently about women’s issues, and I was only between 21 and 26 during my days in Spitboy. I remember realizing at one point that I was able to answer interview questions more easily and clearly than when we first started. The self-knowledge grew over time, as it tends to do, but Spitboy spent a great deal of time reflecting on our experiences, processing out loud and being mindful. That was a good practice to learn in my twenties that served me well when I went back to school, became a mom, and began teaching community college.

In “The Spitboy Rule” story, it cracked me up when you said, “For some reason we always broke down in Wyoming. Wyoming was Spitboy’s Bermuda Triangle.” When I was 18, 19, and 20 and traveling with a bus full of punk and hippie kids, we always seemed to break down or get stuck with no gas money in the middle of Wyoming or Nebraska! Of all the time I’ve spent in big cities or camping in the middle of nowhere, and not feeling scared much, I was genuinely scared a couple of times in those states. Were you ever super scared in those breakdowns?

Michelle: You’re not the first person to comment on that Spitboy’s Bermuda Triangle line. I do remember being scared. In fact, I remember not opting to be one of the people who walked/hitchhiked to a service station to get help. Karin, our guitar player did that, and Paula too, since she knew how to work on cars, to talk parts. I stayed back with the van and read a book in an attempt to calm myself. I grew up with a lot of chaos, so I wasn’t always a lot of help in situations where I couldn’t imagine the outcome. People would usually look at us weird when they’d stop to help us or when we’d come sputtering into their service station, but on that first tour when it was just the four of us – four women – people were very willing to help us, even if it was in that “What-seems-to-be-the-problem-little-lady?” sort of way.

I can just picture “Huggy Bear Boy.” In fact, I’m pretty sure I dated him. Were there a lot of odd balls you had to interact with after your shows?

Michelle: Huggy Bear Boy was a nice guy. I just didn’t want to hug him or anybody else I didn’t know. Most people we met on tour were super nice. I do remember that there was one guy in particular in, I think, Savannah, Georgia, we were pretty freaked out by. I don’t remember his name, but he organized our show. We played in what seemed like sort of a biker bar, but it was an all ages show, since that’s all we would play – all ages venues. We went to the guy’s house before the show, and he had a bunch of reptiles, and the place smelled terrible. He was also the leering creepy type, and we were supposed to stay the night at his place after the show. We lied to him telling him that we had to leave that night because we had a long drive in front of us. We drove somewhere near the beach, slept in the van, and went to the beach in the morning before leaving for our next show. This is probably an example of one of the many ways being a band of women is quite different than being all-male.

After you made your statement on stage: “We’re not a riot grrl band,” did you have to explain yourself a lot? How did you, and how did you feel about having to do that?

Michelle: Everywhere we’d gone prior to making that statement, people had asked us if we were a riot grrl band. We had really grown tired of it. We did make enemies. A lot of riot grrls really hated us for it, which didn’t feel good at all, but we couldn’t really blame them after I had been so undiplomatic. Later, when we put out our “Mi Cuerpo Es Mio 7”, a riot grrl accused us of cultural appropriation. I’m writing a piece about this right now. I don’t think we would have been accused of cultural appropriation if I hadn’t said “We’re not a riot grrl band” in public. The accusation was a low blow and misdirected too since I’m a Chicana and the name of the 7” was my idea – a way for me to have the band represent an element of the band that we had never represented before – my Chicanisma.

You said at the end you would have gone about things differently, but not much differently. I’m glad. We needed girls like you in the scene to get the ball of change rolling. I mean, my boyfriend is a total feminist, so I’m glad you said that.

Michelle: Riot grrl was a really important movement, but it wasn’t our movement. Spitboy formed before riot grrl became a national movement, but I’m still really glad that they existed, but we existed too.

Just one last question before you go: What would you say to a young, feminist artist who is at that stage that you were when you first got to school and first met Adrienne? You mentioned that you didn’t know what you wanted to do and didn’t even know if you belonged in school.

Michelle: Since I’m now a community college English instructor, I think I have to say that you shouldn’t ever rule out school. I believe that too, that if you’re not ready for school, you can always go back later like I did. In fact, I know that I got a lot more out of college since I went back full-time in my late twenties, and I brought the confidence that I gained in Spitboy and the life experience to my classwork, which really helped all the studying, tests, and essays feel relevant and real-world. When I first went to college, I had no idea what I was doing, how to apply what I was learning, or how to navigate the complicated system of academia, and I also wanted to be making music. Some people can do both, but I wasn’t one of those people. If this young female artist is a true artist who does her research and engages in an artistic community, that can be an education too.

Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions and to make your zine! Where can we all read MORE?

Michelle: The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Female Punk Band zine can be ordered for $4 plus shipping from Etsy at https://www.etsy.com/shop/PrettyBoldDesigns?ref=si_shop
or $3 plus shipping via Paypal: profesora.gonzales@gmail.com

Additional Spitboy Rule pieces can be read for free at http://pretty-bold-mexican-girl.com/

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Breezy Barcelo loves to write, make crafts and hang out with kids (including her own). She is currently working on a zine with her teenage daughter called Motherkin.

My Religion

New Prose by Jenny Forrester

I wanted to be good, and I wanted life to be fair.

Mom and I sat on the porch, and I told her how I thought things should be.

“You know how Joseph Smith created a whole new religion based on the idea that white people had been to this place before and that the Indians and white people had lived together before, long ago, but the white people all died out and left this great religion, etched into tablets and buried it all for the return of the white people to America.”

I reasoned that I could write a religion that allowed women to be equal to men.

I said, “Women could have multiple husbands.”

Mom said, “I don’t want even one husband.”

We laughed as the sun set over the chalk-colored hills and the great mesa in the distance and the mountains behind us became dark giants.

“What are you laughing about,” my brother wanted to know, his hair shuffled on his head, no t-shirt over his rib-ragged chest.

“Oh, nothing,” my mom said. She shushed me with her gaze.

This was one of those conversations that wasn’t for my brother Brian’s ears.

Later, mom said, “You can have children without being married.  If you get married because you’re pregnant, you’re making two mistakes instead of just one.” But she looked me in the eye and said, “You, of course, don’t have to worry about any of that yet.  Not until you’re much older.”

When I told her that there were girls in this town having sex already, she said, “Well, that couldn’t be true.”

And then she said, “If they are, they’ll ruin their reputations.”

I would have to learn how to navigate mixed messages.

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Jenny Forrester was the 2011 recipient of the Richard Hugo House New Works Competition award and has been published in a variety of places including Nailed Magazine, Penduline Press, Hip Mama Magazine, and Indiana Review. She and Ariel Gore co-edited the anthology The People’s Apocalypse. She’s the curator of Portland’s Unchaste Readers Series.

Back Curved Like a Swan, Arms Free

New memoir excerpt from Bastard Child of a Renegade Nun by Laura Green

Day
“I can’t believe you have this book in your apartment.”

From where I’m sitting on the floor by the bookshelf I can only see the leaping crest of Tara’s bangs over the couch’s cat-shredded arm.

“Oh my god, it’s porn.”

Is that bad? I can’t tell, which makes me want to grab The New Our Bodies, Ourselves from her hands. Or knock her out. Or stay very still.

Sex is dangerous. Sex is all-you-can-eat at my favorite restaurant and everything’s free but half the food’s poison. I’m starving all the time but I don’t want to be the first to sink a fork in.

I thought I was safe with Tara. I thought she was just as grease-stained and drooling as I am, because a few weeks ago she showed me three condoms and a thick pink rod in her mom’s nightstand. The rod had a turn on switch. It was splayed and nubbed at one end like the nose of the star-nosed mole I saw at the Museum of Science. Tara said I couldn’t touch anything in the drawer because her mom would know, but I think Tara touches that rod.

Is twelve too old to like the Museum of Science? I worry that going there’s something I shouldn’t admit to. Especially going there with my mom. Twelve. Twelve is too old, isn’t it? To kneel by the egg-shaped chick incubator? Hatch, chicks. Hatch before I move on.

Maybe Tara’s never touched the rod. Maybe she would never even think of it.

“It’s, like, a medical book,” I dodge. There are medical things in the book, but – come on, who am I kidding? It has a chapter called “Sexual Pleasure and Enthusiastic Consent.” Enthusiastic.

“It totally tells how to do it.” Tara sounds triumphant. Why? What has she found out? I’m sure it’s worse than I’ve feared. I should run. What should I grab? What should I cover? Her bangs quiver like antennae in a buffeting wind.

It does tell how to do it. The New Our Bodies, Ourselves tells about all different ways to do it. It tells how to do it if you’re in a wheelchair. In one place it even tells about ladies doing it to each other.

“Really?” I try to sound surprised. My spine is prickling. “Gross.” Is it gross that I have this book in my apartment? Is it great? Is this book more dirty than condoms and star-nosed rods? Is it dirty in a worse way? I can’t know from just Tara’s bangs.

One time, weeks ago, I rubbed lotion that smelled like peach-scented plastic on Tara’s puffy breasts. She’s covered in freckles, but not in places the sun’s never touched. Those places were pale white with blue veins. It doesn’t mean she couldn’t turn on me.

And one time we pretended I was Mr. Harrison, our woodworking teacher with whom Tara’s in love. Tara lay under me while I struggled to get my hand so my fingers could reach inside her. I needed to do it without breaking the belly-to-belly sex position I think Mr. Harrison would employ.

She was soft and warm down there; inside she was slick and pillow-y. I didn’t expect it to be so slick, almost pleated. It was different than I am inside, I think. Was it? I was so afraid while it was happening I could only hold on to every third or fourth thought. I wanted to change positions so I could slide my whole finger in, but that’s not how sex works.

After a while Tara said she was going to be Mr. Harrison and we flipped so Mr. Harrison could press herself against my thigh.

We were just practicing, though. It isn’t like I thought that was a real thing. Tara and I aren’t like the homos in The New Our Bodies, Ourselves. Is that what she thought I thought? Was she mad about it? Is she here to get evidence? But she did it too. Will anyone believe me?

“Don’t act like you haven’t read it. You’ve totally read this a million times.”

Of course I have. At least a million, which is why it’s so strange I’ve never seen the little red journal before, just three books over from Our Bodies Ourselves. Its spine is no thicker than my pinkie. It says RECORD in shiny gold letters. There’s a shiny gold box around the word and smaller boxes all up and down the spine. The other books in the bookcase are soft-covers with cracked bindings mashed to just white paper at their corners. This is something different.

“What time does your mom get home?” Tara asks, tipping her head back so I can see her pink forehead and the end of her flat, speckled nose.

“I don’t know, like, five-thirty?” I’ve sunk into matching positions with her. Head against the wall, back against the floor, knees tenting up in front of me. Book balanced against my legs.

“What time is it now?” Tara voice is still sharp, it could be a trick. Her questions could mean anything. What time is it now. What does that mean?

The journal’s cover is slightly bumpy. When I hold it at an angle I can see it’s etched with a pattern that looks like the residue of thousands of tiny bubbles, popped. It’s marbled like an Easter egg. It’s as light as an egg. I crack it open.

The pages are measured out in tightly spaced baby blue lines running horizontally with one pale pink vertical stripe at their left edge. My mother’s handwriting slants along the blue lines in dark blue pen. Neat and even like a lake being blown by a steady breeze.

In the open space at the top before the measuring begins she’s written, June 13, ’75. Three months before I was born.

Here you are, six months old already and I’ve talked with you so many times. When I found out you were with me a warm feeling came over me, which has never left–not even for a moment. It’s like having all my hopes and desires of a lifetime fulfilled.

I close the cover quickly. My heart feels too near my skin. This is from when I was not separate. This is from when I was only imagined. From when everything was still furled tight and I might become a thousand different people. Now so much set and unchangeable. My throat feels stretched, like I’m trying to choke down all the years.

The bend in my neck and the hard knot of time in my esophagus make it hard for blood to get through. I can feel it struggling below my jaw. I can hear it.

“Hey, what time is it now?” Tara corkscrews her body and pushes herself up so her head is propped on the arm of the couch. “What’s that?” she asks, pointing her chin at the journal.

“Nothing. For homework,” I improvise. “Four? Prolly?”

My mom from long before. Here in this book. Talking to me. It’s toppled me so completely I forgot about navigating Tara. I forgot the perils on the couch right in front of me. The thousand different people this moment could turn me into.

“Wanna read it in your room?” She thumps the thick book filled with sex that’s wedged between her chest and the couch. Relief. It washes away the knot. I swallow it. We’ll read the book and practice stuff. It won’t fill all my brain. Worry will still chatter in the background, but it will be a mumble, not a howl.

I lead the way. Another step further from being curled tight and perfect, another step I won’t be able to walk back.

I don’t put the journal on the bookshelf. I take it with me. It was written to me. It’s mine. I close the door to my room, my door. Lock my lock. I have a lock. It feels like just another thing that I’ve made up, but I pinch and twist – I feel it click. The knob won’t turn now. What if my mom comes home early? What if, like God, she’s always watching me? I need to close her out. I need to keep her close.

Under my bed there’s a Converse shoebox where I hide my diary. It’s a gigantic box for the gigantic men’s high-top leather sneakers I make my mom buy me. I like them in a size that exceeds my feet by inches. I’m too tall for my age, I have breasts and hips and my period already, and I hope maybe no one will notice. Maybe no one will see it–me.

They do, of course. Once a boy called me Green Giant. Jolly Green Giant. Do they all call me that? All of them. All of them do, but despite it, I intend to grow. The giant shoes make me trip climbing stairs and I have to take them off to run or to walk on anything but perfectly flat, well swept terrain. My mom thinks it’s weird and hysterical that I want them, but I need them. I need the extra space. There’s more of me, I’m sure of it.

There’s plenty of room in their box for this book. I drop it in. I take out the peach scented lotion.

“The person reading gets a backrub. You read first.” This is one of the ways to start. She lies on a pillow on my rug.

She points at a drawing, “Gross! Who’s that hairy?!” I push up her shirt. She reaches around and arcs like a swimmer, then it’s over her head and off.

“Gross,” I agree. In the twisting my pillow moved. I can see its flowered case between her legs.

“Lips,” she reads in disgust. “Our lips.” She laughs and laughs. I laugh.

We both know this food is poison but we’ve skipped so many meals and you can die from hunger too.

I tug on the waistband of her stirrup pants. She lifts her hips so I can pull them down.

Night
My mom fell asleep before I did.

If I fall asleep while she’s still awake and the house is lighted, while she’s still tending things and taking care of us and moving, then I’m okay. Mostly. But if I’m still awake when she turns out the lights in the living room and kitchen and the only light left is the one by her bed and then if she snaps off even that yellow bit of consciousness–if I’m still awake then–I’m doomed.

Because of the Museum of Science, I know this sort of magic trick. You stand in a doorway and open your arms to the sides like wings. The doorjamb stops them, but you have to keep pressing against it as hard as you can for a slow count of 60. After enough time your arms re-calibrate. They accept this new intense and specific gravity and resign themselves to live under it forever. Then, just when they start to forget the press of the world they came from, you step into the room and your arms fly from your body like snipped balloons. That’s what nighttime is, but instead of my arms it’s my whole being flying away.

Don’t be such a baby, I coach myself, You’re twelve years old. What are you, scared of the dark?

It isn’t the dark. It’s the space.

Where am I? Where are my edges?

I sit up and reach for the wooden dowel folded into the bottom of my shade. I tug it and it springs up, unlatched, from my hand. The pink haze of the streetlight near my room shines in, but weakly. It isn’t enough to pin me in this moment, which is gone already.

I try praying. Dear God, please make me believe in you. If you exist make me believe in you. It instantly makes me feel guilty. If God exists he should be spending time saving babies with no lips and holes in their spines and women trapped in lagoons by scaled and yellow-eyed creatures. I’m just one girl in one moment in endless, sprinting time. One tiny flick of girl. I’m sorry , I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Small and selfish. Pompous. Presumptuous. What kind of God would notice me?

If I get up and walk the ten or twelve steps from my room to my mom’s room I can climb into her bed and that will be enough, but I’m twelve. I swore off sleeping in my mom’s bed when I turned nine and again when I turned ten. Eleven. Don’t be a baby. You just need to stop it. STOP IT. But I can’t. I need something outside of me to make me stop. I hang myself over the edge and pull out my box, slide the lid off and pull out the red journal.

July, 31 1975 Today I’m worried about you. The doctor said you were small for your age. Up until two weeks ago you were big for your age. What happened to you? Aren’t you eating well? Please, please grow big soon.

I will! I do! I’m fine, pregnant mom. I turn out fine. For a second it’s comforting to know how it turns out. Then it’s just horribly sad that it’s always turning.

August 2 Today you had the hiccups! Or at least I think you did. Maybe you were just kicking with rhythm. You’ll have to try out different instruments!

September 1 You’ve been so active lately. I hope you’ll always be this energetic and happy. I have so many things I should be doing but I spend hours just marveling at you. You’re not even born yet and already I can’t concentrate on anything but you.

This is the God I need. Who can make me and carry me and still think that I am the miracle. That I’m reason enough.

But she isn’t a god, and someday there will just be this book. The thought makes hot fear pool in the base on my brain. Or cold – the kind of cold that burns your skin clean off.

October 1st. I’m born. You like to lie in the opposite direction of the fetal position with your back curved like a swan and your arms free. My darling, I hope you’ll find the freedom you seem to want, and that, in some small way, you’ll make this world a freer place to live in.

But I didn’t want to be free.

I wanted to be held.

Laura Green lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s working on a memoir tentatively called Bastard Child of a Renegade Nun (plus half-Mexican and gay). Please contact her if you have an elegant way to work it all into a title.

Online Writing Workshops with Ariel Gore

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN FOR FALL & WINTER CLASSES

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

 

Lit Star Training

The Original Literary Kitchen Online Writing Workshop

Taught by Ariel Gore

September 6 – Early November This class is full. Email arielgoremedia at gmail dot com to get on the waiting list.

 

A new session of Lit Star Training — the 8-week+ writing course taught by Ariel Gore — starts September 6. 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 $295 — a $90 deposit will hold your spot. You can pay the deposit right here:

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SPECIAL 4-WEEK SESSION OF LIT STAR TRAINING – THIS CLASS IS FULL

Online Creative Writing Class Taught by Ariel Gore
November 8 – December 8
This fall, I’m offering a special 4-week session of Lit Star Training. 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.
Class size is limited, so please sign up early.
Cost of the workshop is $155

A $55 deposit saves your spot.

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THE WINTER BREAK INTENSIVE
Online Creative Writing Course Taught by Ariel Gore
Power Through the Holidays with 12 Assignments in 14 Days
December 19 – January 1
Always the most popular class in the kitchen. Instead of having a nervous breakdown, use the holiday weeks to produce up to 100 pages of new writing.

You’ll get 12 assignments in 14 days and lots of great feedback (an-assignment-a-day & take 2 days of your choosing off.)

Class size is limited, so please sign up early.
$155

 

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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 jump-started 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

 

Read The Greatest Most Traveling Circus!

What is The Greatest Most Traveling Circus, you ask?

Why, it’s a mythical place, a philosophy of life, a new book you’ll love.

It’s a collection of stories about vampires and superheroes, gypsy curses, giant killer robots, psychics, love potions, bar fights over stolen angel wings, and imaginary monsters.

It’s also a novel about overcoming depression, handling loss, and trying to find meaning in a world where the supernatural isn’t the hardest part of life to accept.

It’s the most fabulous book behind the most understated cover. And it will make you happy to be alive.

The print edition of The Greatest Most Traveling Circus is all yours from Sweet Candy Press: http://www.sweetcandypress.com. And there’s a Kindle edition, too.

Ariel: I fell in love with The Greatest Most Traveling Circus almost immediately when I cracked the cover. I could just feel the joy emanating from the pages. Is writing for you as joyous a process as it seems from the reading point of few—or more an arduous art?

Jonas: It was definitely a joy. I loved telling these stories. I would get immersed in them for long stretches of time. I’d write at work, at home, during my commute to work, in the bathroom; practically everywhere. When I wasn’t writing, I was still thinking about the characters and story lines. It was really exhilarating. On the train home from work, I’d write something that would have me literally laughing out loud, and I’d get a little worried that people around me thought that I was a crazy person. Then some parts actually had me in tears right after I wrote them. I can think of a few parts in particular that hit me pretty hard.

I mean, it was draining at the same time.  There’s quite a lot of really personal stuff embedded in there. But writing it never felt like a chore.

Ariel: Can we talk about genre? Your book had been called an anthology but also a novel. What more can you tell me about the genre? I usually think of an anthology as multi-author, and all these stories are written by you. And I think of a novel as single-author and single-protagonist…

Jonas: I was really torn on whether to call it an anthology or a novel. Technically, it’s an anthology. But at one point during the writing, I started thinking of each story more as a chapter. There are recurring themes, a lot of characters reappear or are mentioned in several stories, and often details in one story resolve or unfold certain situations from previous stories. I wanted it to feel like an anthology at first, then unfold slowly in a way that feels like one story with a large cast of characters. I think, for me at least, the character Ramona is the protagonist, and the whole book is building up to her story.

Ariel: A theme of the book—right from the start—seems to be a certain randomness of existence. I was recommending it to someone and I called it “kind of a beach read that is also meditation on existential philosophy.” Do you think that’s a fair characterization? Or am I just maybe feeling very random and reading into it?

Jonas: That’s a perfect way to put it! I was reading an awful lot of philosophy while I was writing the book.  Right from the beginning, what I tired to do was tackle a lot of very complicated philosophical ideas within the context of very simple stories. The layers are there, but you don’t have to dig for them to enjoy the book. I didn’t want it to be stuffy. Then, yes, many of the characters each seem to be in the middle of an existential crisis, you know, looking for a deeper personal meaning to life—which they realize, for better or worse, through the friendships they build.

Ariel: How long did it take to write The Greatest Most Traveling Circus? What do you like about the final product?

Jonas: I wrote the first stories around 2006 or so. I’d write large batches of them, compile them and give them to my wife as small gifts. I started writing the Amazing Man stories just after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. The inspiration was pretty clear at the time, you know, contrasting the renewed excitement over superheroes in movies with a tragic mass murder; you know, the fascination with superheroes in a country that keeps showing us very real, dangerous villains.  It’s mind-boggling that, since then, superhero movies have become even more popular, and there have been many more mass murders like the Virginia Tech shooting. I mean, there was that Colorado shooting in 2012, where the shooter actually referred to himself as The Joker, and went on his rampage at the premier of a superhero flick.

But yeah, around 2007 is when I started to look at the work as a cohesive book and not just a set of stories that occasionally intersected.  I finished it around the spring of 2011, but then there were edits here and there right up until it was published.

I’m really happy with how it all comes together, but I still think it works if you just flip through it and read the individual stories at random.