Elegy for Our Home in Detroit

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sorry if I seem a little scattered since the invasion of Detroit; I’ve lost a few things, and if you can find them, will you send them my way? Two peach trees, one pear tree, one plum tree, five rose bushes, one fairy door, one swing set, used, one play scape, pirates and adventurers since moved on, one mural, one door frame with ten years of my daughter’s growth marked in pen, and yes, what I really want back are those years. It was all eternity, but now we have been displaced.

In the house that you live in, in the city you declare bankrupt, in the school system you have dismantled, you have stolen our memories.

I miss my home. I grieve the house we lived in when the children were small, the rooms they pulled their stuffed animals through by a long ear or a string, the marks on the door frame to show how they’ve grown, once a year in pen, because we were never going to leave.

Here are the rooms of the nine hundred square feet and the happiest days of my life: hardwood floors, high ceilings with crown moldings in a fleur de lis pattern, stained glass windows and a crystal chandelier. We painted the front room blue, the color Nereida chose. “Blue like my dress, Mami. Azul! Azul, Mami!” She runs up to me on the couch saying her name is Esther, and that she will crown her big sister the queen of all the Cheetahs.

The neighbor girl, Iztlali, painted the dining room a soft green and it resembles a room from a magazine, with the bronze chandelier and the long white curtains, but then I put in the toys, and art supplies and a rug. It becomes a place of ever-changing landscapes, and there Maria and Nereida spend hours; they sing, dress up, marry each other, and their stuffed animals become involved in long fairy stories from bright picture books.

The best days are the days after the trial when Cesar has been released and has already gone away to Honduras. Those moments are the sweetest, when the evening is hushed.

Soon, it will be time to lay Maria and Nereida down in their toddler beds, in the room with the mural that Itzlali painted. Fairy creatures from Mexico come alive at night and bring the girls into a nighttime world populated with one-eyed birds and bright colored flowers the size of their heads. “Mami, sing us another song,” the girls say, and I do, the one about the coyote.

And perhaps snowflakes fall from the sky, and Detroit quiets; my bedroom looks out onto the backyard, where the snow covers the play scape, the fruit trees, the garden fence.

Maybe I hear the back door open and shut, and the family that lives upstairs pop their heads in through the kitchen door; Patrice and her two children, Juan and Salome.

“I’ll get the kids up to bed,” she says. And soon my housemate and friend from the old neighborhood comes down the stairs, and we share coffee, or a drink, and whisper plans for our children, dreams for things we are going to do. She shows me her timeline to quit the Detroit EMS and become a midwife; I promise to look into classes to get my teaching certificate. Maybe we can get the kids into that new art school.

At night the Detroit sky still flames red in brilliant sunsets from the upstairs back porch, and the trees grow peaches and pears and plums in the summer, and the roses the Lithuanian woman planted wind through the fences in a pink, white and red barricade. I pick two-dozen red roses on the last day of school in the Migrant Center where I am the teaching assistant, and give each graduating mother a rose for completing the ESL course. But at the end of the year, we are all laid off and we have to re-interview for our own jobs.

I wear my mother’s clothes to the interview, a long, two-piece sweater dress with low-heeled loafers. I miss her. They still smell like her, lavender and fresh sheets. I resemble a round owl with tortoiseshell glasses, not even curvaceous, just round.

As I walk in I feel a chill invading my body. The principal interviewing me is an iguana, his tongue slips in and out of his moist lips. The union representative at the meeting exchanges a look with the principal, lifts his eyebrows. When I leave, past the large glass windows of the interview room, I can see their heads bent together. The secretary, a woman my age dressed in a tight leather pantsuit and 4-inch heels walks into the room. The men smile at her. She asks a question, or says something, and they laugh. I don’t get the job and everyone in our center is replaced by a Teach for America Volunteer.

I find a job where I fit in. I work at Wendy’s; the smock is blue and white, and it makes me look slimmer. My coworkers don’t look down on me, and because of my freckles, some of them even call me Wendy. I’m one of the fastest cashiers, they say. “That’s pretty good,” I say. There is no history, just me, tying on my blue and white headscarf in the bathroom at Wendy’s hamburgers.

I can make change by counting backwards, so I know if the computer is wrong. I never needed a calculator to do math. I can just open the cash register with a key and count out the change; since I can do math fast in my head it also means I get the best shifts. When the line is nine deep, I like to catch someone’s eyes in the back line, see their hungry look, and watch their surprise when they get all the way up to the front in no time. It also means I get to talk to whole football teams, people who would never talk to me when I was in high school–they are filled with gratitude when they get their orders.

Square beef slabs, pink and plump, stacked on their paper squares line the walk-in shelves until it’s time to carry them over to the grill. I know how to work every station, the register, the grill, the Frosty machine, the fryers, and the cleanup stations– pots and pans, mopping, scrubbing the bricks, vacuuming. Window washing. My apron is caked with grease when I work the grill, and when I close the restaurant I have sweated and cooled down so many times throughout my shift I feel like an athlete, both spent and high on endorphins.

The giant stainless steel lettuce chopper is the only machine that I edge away from. I told my bosses all those shiny little blades were too much for me. I wanted to see what my arm would look like chopped into little squares; I’ve always liked blades. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that out loud. Maybe that’s why I’ve never made Manager, even though I said, “Just kidding!”

How do I lose the house? It happens in stages. Wendy’s doesn’t pay that well, and Cesar is back, and in and out of the house; I can’t get him to move out. Then, one night, Cesar starts a fight in the bar; two guys drag him outside, throw him down on the ground and start kicking him in the head. His cousin stabs one of the guys, and is arraigned with attempted murder. His cousin saved Cesar’s life; I take the money out of the house to pay for the lawyer and his cousin’s freedom. But I am finally able to tell Cesar to go to hell, and he mostly stays away. I think he’s met someone. Zubayda. They move back to Cesar’s family farm in Honduras. That’s what I hear from his cousins.

Then the storm rips half of the roof off, and the house loan pays for the contractor that fixes the roof, but he doesn’t fix it. Kent threatens to kill me when I try to get my money back. Don’t ever use Kent’s roofing in Detroit. Fuck you Kent. Your dad is rolling over in his grave for what you did to his business, you mother fucker.

“Your kids like to play in the backyard, don’t they?” he says. And the next day, the back gate is missing from the yard. And so the house loan pays for a new gate, and bars on the window, and another guy, a neighbor to slap some tar on the roof to hold it together for the winter, and a floor and ceiling for the upstairs kitchen, ruined by the roof that Kent built. It’s like Stephen King started writing nursery stories and implanting them into people’s yards in Detroit, and you can’t return the book back to the library, because the library’s been burnt down.

There’s always a place for money to go, until I start having to buy the food with the credit card again, because one thing about Cesar being in Honduras, is that he’s in Honduras, not here, and the girls need shoes and winter coats.

So we get behind, and then we get behind some more. Patrice, who rents the upstairs rooms, gives birth to Emma, and then Patrice moves out to the east side into her new boyfriend’s place. Things just fall apart little by little. My house goes to someone with 17,000 to spare. I’m not allowed to buy my house for 17,000, but someone can. The couple is bright eyed with glee. The woman laughs and takes a picture of the sales price. “You have to post that, they won’t believe what a steal they can get here,” he says. He didn’t pronounce the ‘r’; they’re not from around here. They barely glance at me.

I start selling the furniture little by little. The one-bedroom apartment we can rent in the town just north of Detroit doesn’t have room for all of the bookshelves and dressers. I keep the table from the house I grew up in, the one we made with dad, and the girl’s bunk beds. I keep mom’s blue mixing bowl, and the girls’ art supplies and dress up clothes. As I pack the last box in the truck, I sniff new adventure too.

The girls are bewildered by the silence in the suburbs. They learn how to cross the street. They learn how to ride their bikes. They are ten and twelve when we move out of Detroit, and their babyhood is gone, forever in the house on Larkins Street, on the dead-end block where we climbed down onto the freeway with jugs of water for the truckers the day the traffic stopped and the power grid went out on the entire Eastern Seaboard.

I want to write a new history for myself. I do not know the name of my great-grandmother. It is as if a giant hand deposited us here, lifted from the nothing, a myth of a place over the ocean; always within a few miles of the narrow place in the river called Detroit.

Michigan, from space, is in the shape of a mitten; it is a left hand. Left handed like me, and the narrow strait of Detroit curves around what would be the thumb joint, the rest of the state is filled with trees and people who are sure that Jesus is white and wants us to bomb the infidels. The talking heads on the TV say that what happens now is what matters, and what came before is nobody’s fault who is alive today, and we should forget it.

I look in the mirror to see if there are answers to the history written there, but I see nothing. If I stare at myself long enough my eyes will start to scare me. I believe there is something you can see in eyes, and that is what we see into other people, but myself? I keep seeing an attic room behind me filled with trunks and boxes, things of value peeping out: velvet, wooden, and silver, entire rooms, lifetimes of treasures, carried over from other places and other times, carried in the hold of ships, treasures stolen from the manor houses, traded in exchange for safe passage to another place. This room is full of stolen pickings.

I would have lost the house anyway; I am glad that the one peach tree still bears fruit. The new couple that lives there tore down the playhouse and built a fire pit. I drove through the alley just to see; it was dusk. They took the pear tree out too, and laid cement down. I stepped out of my car and I could hear laughing. I peered around the garage and the new bike shed. I smelled a strong odor of weed. They have painted over the graffiti on the garage, and the tall grass and the grape vines are gone. I wonder what would happen if I introduced myself to them. If I told them that they are standing on hallowed ground; it used to belong to us, and we to it. I know that this story has happened to people over and over again in history, that the owners will never see who I really am, through the smoke of their campfire. But there is a bigger universe than I can see, and what happens down here doesn’t alter that. The change has already happened, and there is enough to remind me of this under the moon, and in the morning below the day blind stars. But, I miss my home. I miss the baskets of peaches in the summer, and the long days on the back porch, when my children were small.

Mai’a Williams

Mai’a Williams is a poet, editor, community journalist, a run-into-the-middle-of-the-fire-revolutionary, homeschooling single mama to a brilliant seven year old, backpacking traveler with a very messy passport, currently living in Quito, Ecuador. She’s a journalist for this latin american news agency, while doing the single mama thing, looking for a nanny, and she keeps coming back to writing and editing no matter what comes up.

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

Most of my creative writing is in notebooks while sitting in restaurants with a glass of wine or a bottle or two of beer. There are plenty of days that I don’t want to write poetry after spending all day in a crowded news office writing about other peoples traumas. Like what more do I have to say after I’ve written about war in gaza, in syria, in iraq, in ferguson? And yet, there are days and nights when I still have ink and energy to spill on the page.

There are also plenty of days all I want to do is have a drink, curl up in bed and watch Netflix, when I just want a conversation that isnt about work. Plenty of days when I want to just lose myself because I feel so trapped inside my own head. My own skin.

So yeah I don’t have a regular routine. I am just trying to get it all done in a single day, a single week. Make it somewhat close to the latest deadlines. Let this writing be a prayer, be a balm, be a knife to cut the poison that still lingers inside of me.

My daughter just came in to the bedroom to give me a hug and show me her favorite timer, a plastic hourglass with blue sand. ‘It’s quicker than a minute!’ she exclaimed.

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

It seems to me that writing is the least tool intensive art form. Like paper and a pen. Sand and a stick.

But the writing that I most enjoy is honest, raw, simple, direct. Show me what it feels like to be inside this human skin. Show me how complex it is to keep breathing in a world being destroyed. Show me how there is still love in the midst of war. How there is anger in the beatific moments.

What motivates you to write?

I write for the girls like me. Like us. For the girls who are fighters and are too afraid to fight. For the girls who are strange and awkward and too observant for their own good. For the lonely girls, the angry girls who aren’t allowed to be angry. The good girls who are don’t feel so good inside. I just want to say, I see you. I see you and I will fight for you, so fight for yourselves, because I swear it may not get better, but you will get better at this fight. It may not get easier, but it will be worth it. And when you are down on the ground, once again, wiping the spit or tears off your face, remember that no one has the right to define your life, but you. You give it meaning. And no one else can do that, no matter how much others may tell you that they know what your life means.

Again and again I come back to the desire to tell the truth of my experience. To push back against the narratives that say that there is only way to have experienced this life. To say, yes, we can survive this too. And not only survive, but understand it and live through it and get stronger and more vulnerable to life. Sometimes I am walking down the street and I hear a line just drift across my head and I think that’s the beginning of a poem, that could go somewhere. Sometimes I even stop to write it down. Sometimes I hear a rhythm in my head and I think. Yes. That’s how that story should sound.

And I write to touch you. It’s that simple. I want to know that I am here. And that you are here.

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

God, yes. It’s embarrassing, right? Because I have read so many writers say there is no such as writers block. Hell, I’ve said that before. Maybe its not writers block, its just that my mood doesn’t match the desire to write. Often times it really is because I don’t want to go there emotionally, you know? Like, do I want to spend the next couple of hours remembering how heartbreaking life is? To record these days of loneliness and uncertainty. The reason I want to write about those moments is because I want to give you the emotional truth of this life and at the same time, it’s fucking painful.

And all I can do is say to myself, okay, look, ten minutes. One page. One paragraph. You’ll get to the heart of it. Stand up and dance for a few minutes after you get that first page done. Just spill words on the page. You’ll go through it later and edit and make it work. Your readers, those girls who are like you and want to read the truth so they can know their lives are real, those girls are worth it.

Just tell the truth. Get it off your chest. It really is more painful to hold it in than it is to put it on the page. Once you write it, then you wont have to write it again. It will never be harder than it is right now. So just write. One more time, just get it down.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Dear writer, its not about you in the end. You are just writing. Think of it as taking dictation from some voice that happens to be in your brain. Just write the words. That’s your job. Don’t take it personal. They are just words, just images, just rhythms. They aren’t you. They barely describe you, because you are not words. You are life. So just write and let the words and sentences fall where they may.

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

A couple of nights ago, I was hanging out with a friend, 2 o’clock in the morning. The night had grown chilly. He sang in Arabic for me, since singing is his first love. He was showing me how close Arabic music and prayer are in terms of melody and structure.

Then I recited the poem I wrote, a decade and a half ago, when I was 20 years old and it was spring in DC and the cherry blossoms had fallen to the grey sidewalks. It’s still my manifesto in many ways. In it I say, this life is an art form and this poem is a testimony to the survivors of suicide.

What I write is full of music and melody at its best. It comes out of jazz and blues and hip hop. And all I am asking the reader, to girls like me, to not give up or give in but to go on and live this one beautiful life, because in the end that is what we got. Do whatever gets you through the day. Make this survival meaningful.

Hold on, I have to run downstairs and run water through the washing machine. I washed laundry a few days ago, and then just let it sit in the machine for days, so now I have get that sour smell out, that smell of mildew, out of the clothes. I am running out of clean clothes and have to go to work tomorrow, so I have to run them through it the machine again…

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

It took me years to get to the place where I am now with these two little books of poetry.

First, I learned to keep writing. To keep editing. To keep reaching toward that sound or image that I had in my head when I first began. I have read those poems over so many times. I learned to keep reading them until I am sick of them. Put them aside and then come back to them a week or month or a year later and do it again. Tenacity.

And I learned the power of outside readers and writers. I had amazing readers and editors. As many times as I’ve read these poems, I almost couldn’t hear them any more. And then I had outside editors who read them and taught me what the poems really sounded like on the page, what they said to someone who wasn’t me, who hadn’t lived through them. Openness.

Trust my voice. Trust my ear. Trust my vision. Trust.

My daughter just looked up from her computer game to tell me that she has just passed all the levels in one stage! She jumped up and clapped for herself.
What are your current / future projects?

I just put the finishing touches on the two chapbooks of poetry. We, the editors, are in the last week of editing the Revolutionary Mothering anthology that has been five years in the making.

And for about a year I have been coming back to a book that is tentatively called 2011, which is about well, they year 2011, and the egyptian revolution and heartbreak and fighting for freedom no matter what.

There is a book on midwifery that is half way done.

You can read more here and on my tumblr.

What book(s) / author(s) have influenced you

Let me tell you what music has influenced my writing

Lately, it has been Sam Smith’s album on repeat in my headphones.

Nina Simone’s Wild is the Wind

Lauryn Hill, especially everything she has produced since the Miseducation album

Angel Haze, especially the way she will take a Drake beat and kill it

Fairouz, which is the sound of dawn and smoke

Um Koulthoum, which is the sound of evening and dark coffee

Billie Holiday, for my father

Mos Def/Yasiin Bey, for his wordplay

Dead Prez, Hip Hop

Tupac, for embodying the many layers of Thug Life

Biggie, for telling us a million stories on a single album

Kendrick Lamar

Aretha Franklin

Ella Fitzgerald

Marvin Gaye

Rakim

Miles Davis

Valerie June

 

 

New issue of Hip Mama!

The cute FedEx guy just brought me so many boxes of this beautiful new issue of Hip Mama. Subscribe and I’ll send you one right away.

This issue features an inspiring interview with the super-pregnant Michelle Tea, personal essays on parenting young adults, getting knocked up DIY style, talking to our kids about racism, and so much more. There are yummy potato recipes, etiquette from Punk Rock Miss Manners, and a genderqueer paper doll no family should be without.

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zineinbox

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.