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.

Time to Sign Up For the Fall Workshop with Ariel Gore

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN FOR FALL, 2014

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

 

 

A new session of Lit Star Training — the 8-week+ writing course taught by Ariel Gore — starts September 6th. 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:

 

* * *

Portland Writing Intensive

Portland Writing Intensive with Ariel Gore

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

May 18 – 20

May 18: 4 to 8 pm

May 19: 4 to 8 pm

May 20: 4 to 7 pm

 

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

Owning Me

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

 

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

 

I wasn’t supposed to fall in love. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The weight of waiting wears on me.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Star People

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

 

Bones

Lindsey Campbell

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

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

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

I knew we weren’t all the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know it, I live it. I am.

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

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

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

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

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

The Star Tattoos

Sarah Maria Medina

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

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

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

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

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

We were stardust.

 

The First Clue

Rhea St. Julien

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

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

And so utterly in-human.

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

Maybe they were right.

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

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

 

Colors I Had No Name For

Kristi Wallace Knight

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

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

 

Starstuff

Kait Moon

I was 24, he was 37.

What we lacked in common we made up in drugs.

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

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

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

“Hi.”

“Hi” I replied

“What’s your name?”

“Kelly Luna, yours?”

“Jess Fagan”

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

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

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

“Want to get stoned?”

“Yes, I really, really do.”

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

An hour later:

“Wanna make out?”

“Not really.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

You Told Me You Were a Witch

Kitty Torres

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

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

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

“You told me you were a witch.”

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

“Tomorrow?”

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

“Notice?”

“They won’t hurt you.”

“What about the baby?”

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

“Us?”

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

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

“I’ll be gone by then.”

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

I will miss this little planet.

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

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

 

Dancing Star

Lisbeth Coiman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Metamorphosis

Dot Hearn

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

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

Searching for me?

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

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

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

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

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

I looked back, saw her now staring at me.

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

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

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

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

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

 

These Are Not My People

Breezy Barcelo

Why did it take this long for me to realize?

It should have been obvious all along.

These are not my people.

This is not my land.

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

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

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

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

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

“Mommy?”

“I’m okay!”

I stood up, ran out on to the deck.

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

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

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

 

Not In Front of Jesus

Jenny Forrester

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

“This can’t be heaven,” he says.

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

We’re soon joined by our mom.

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

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

She smiles, “I know.”

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

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

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

“Jezebel.”

“Earth-killer.”

“Slut.”

“Baby-killer.”

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

Jesus has made his way over to us.

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

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

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

Jesus and my brother roll their eyes.

Time to sign up for Moe Bowstern’s writing class

Tell Me a Story….Then Write it Down

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

Taught by Moe Bowstern

March 3 – April 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Ursula K. LeGuin

 

* * *

Underoos

New flash memoir by Laura Green

I nearly fainted dead in the store the afternoon I discovered Underoos.

I was only 6, but I knew for sure this would be the best moment of my entire life. How could it get better? Wonder Woman underwear. In Woolworth’s, of all places.

There they were. Just leaning casually against the bumpy mint colored wall. If they had fingers they would have been snapping. The boldness!

Right across the aisle were modest parcels of pink and yellow cotton underwear laid out in clear plastic sacks on tables like pastel-bellied turtles on their backs. Here was simplicity and honesty fully exposed to the fluorescent lights with nothing to hide.

The Underoos were tucked into stiff-backed envelopes with printed paper in flat primary colors slipped in front of and behind them. They were stacked vertically, their cool spines pressed to the metal slats of their rack.

How long had the Wonder Woman underwear been here? Who else had seen it? My whole body felt electrified and shaky. My legs were a thousand pin pricks, I couldn’t feel my feet at all. I needed privacy. I needed fresh air. I needed to get closer to the underwear.

My mom was off looking at socks or sponges; this was 1981 when children roamed retail stores unsupervised and free. I was glad to be alone. I needed time to figure out how to exist in a world that suddenly included Wonder Woman underthings—one top, said the package, one panty.

I didn’t know where to stand or how to approach them. I wasn’t sure where to rest my eyes. There were other kinds of superhero undergarments in the Underoos display, Batman and Superman undergarments. That was helpful since it provided cover. There was no way anyone could know for sure which package in particular I was avoiding looking at. I slunk casually toward them and, sighing the long articulated sigh of an elderly, gout-afflicted field laborer resting for the first time in days, I sat on the stairs next to their rack.

I tried employing my peripheral vision to look at them. There were no other children around so I couldn’t gauge what kind of response might be considered appropriate. Would it seem fine and normal if I bolted over and wildly stuffed as many packages as I could down my pink squirrel print shirt, then ran silently away?  I needed to own every single pair so no one else would be able to look at them. Every. Single. Pair.

Or just one for my very own. It all comes down to compromise in the end. All of it is too big to fit inside your shirt.

I was deeply uncomfortable with the bizarre fact that these were things your mother was intended to buy for you. I didn’t want to bring my mother into this. My feelings for Wonder Woman were not childish. The fact that the world misunderstood that annoyed me, but also protected me. To openly want her here in Woolworths seemed dangerous. It would be obvious, wouldn’t it? That I wanted her in the wrong way? And yet, these were made for children and I was a child. Surely there was some way in which my longing could be bent to appear clean and pure to the adult world, as it clearly ought to have been, as it clearly was for all the other children. All the children who, for example, wanted Batman Underpants.

There was a picture on the cover demonstrating how a child should look when posing in their Underoos. This was what it must mean to be very cute and deserving of superhero underthings. I used this picture as a model and smiled with all my teeth showing, imbecilic and glassy-eyed, while clasping the packet to my chest and making my plea to my harried mother. In an unprecedented move, she conceded to my request nearly instantly.

This was inexplicable. The Underoos were made of some kind of synthetic fiber that shimmered in the light and threatened to melt if you blew hot air too close to it. They were definitely not one hundred percent cotton; they were not any percent cotton. These were underwear that would not under any circumstances breathe, and breathing was something my mother demanded all my underwear do without compromise. Plus they were expensive! But, somehow, my deranged grinning worked on her. She was powerless in the face of my All-American charm.

I continued grimacing grotesquely through the line at the store and all the way out into the daylight.

I wore the underpants part of the Underoos everyday. The tank top undershirt made me feel unsure. I looked so different than Wonder Woman in that area. I didn’t exactly feel sad about it, but the contrast was unsettling and I was happier not drawing attention to it.

In the beginning I wore pants over the Underoos whenever I left my room. It seemed impossible that anyone could see me in them and not know instantly all about my and Wonder Woman’s secret relationship. I feared the shock and pain people would feel when they discovered my innocent six-year-old act was all a ruse.

After a while I came to understand that the adult world was very deeply anchored to the rocking comfort of self-deception and my stellar bottoms would not hew them loose from their moorings. I began slipping out of my pants from time to time to stride about confidently in my scanty disguise.

Laura Green lives and works in Portland, Oregon. She is trying to become more fond of tea.

Do Over

by Kitty Torres

If I had to do it over again, I’d be more like Albert Einstein and less like Betty Crocker.

I’d garden and keep detailed data on my tomato plants and sail a small boat on the Hudson River staying out late to see the stars. I’d worry less about my weight and more about my word count. I’d write when tired, cold, hungry, troubled or happy as a clam. I would overuse my library card and underuse my washing machine. I’d get comfortable shoes in my 40s and not wait until my 60s.

There would be time for philosophy, psychology, art, music, fine dining and great education. Only it would be an eccentric education designed to stimulate the grey matter. That’s where the Einstein part comes in.

If I had to do it over again, I would take risks, become a techie, a librarian, a sea captain, a cook, or a writer! I would sail the Caribbean looking for the perfect beach island and bring along my husband and hound. We’d have fun.

I would stay up in August when the meteor showers come. Stay up all night in a camping park or somewhere that the lights are low or off all together. I’ve seen them before, the August shooting stars. Having sporadic insomnia can be a good thing. I’ve seen the sunrise a pink ribbon at a time. Or when overcast blue-grey clouds mix with the sun’s yellow and turn the sky into a work of art. It’s fun to watch the sunrise, even when you have to catch the 7:37 train to Manhattan to go to work.

Kitty Torres commutes to New York City where she handles admin functions for an international crew and tries to keep her creative juices flowing. She is married and has a crazy hound named Lucky-boy.

Living In Between (My Body and My Routine)

Nina Packebush Interviews Poet and Icarus Co-founder Jacks Ashley McNamara

I recently had the great pleasure of speaking with Jacks Ashley McNamara about writing and creativity, madness and identity, activism and survival. Jacks is a genderqueer writer, artist, activist, and Somatic healer. Jacks is the co-founder, along with Sascha Altman DuBrul, of the Icarus Project, an alternative, peer-run, mutual-aid mental health support network with over 12,000 members worldwide. The Icarus Project recently celebrated its tenth anniversary which happened to coincide with the release of Jacks’ new book of poetry, Inbetweenland, published by Deviant Type Press. Jacks was also the subject of the Ken Paul Rosenthal documentary Crooked Beauty. You may have even read about Jacks in the August 2013 issue of O Magazine as they talked about the history and future of the Radical Mental Health and Recovery Movement.

Many years ago I happened to stumble upon Jacks’ and Sascha’s book  Navigating the Space Between the Brilliance and Madness: A Reader and Roadmap of Bipolar Worlds, and that stumbling quite literally saved my life and the life of my kid. (You can download the original version  here. With that book and the Icarus website I was introduced to an entirely new way of thinking about mental health  and what it means to be “mad” in this crazy world.

When I heard that Jacks was releasing a new book of poetry I couldn’t wait to read it and I wasn’t disappointed. Inbetweenland  holds that same power as Dorothy Allison’s The Women Who Hate Me. This book is raw and beautiful, every poem hits hard and deep. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to crawl inside of it and never leave. Inbetweenland is a fierce collection of triumph and surrender, hot sex and identity, death and survival.

From Jacks’ poem The Other Side of Incantation

Sometimes what is real erupts
through the keys in our spine
to make music like earthquakes. Sometimes it plants
a kiss like a promise smudged in the corners of our souls.
Sometimes it leaves a ghost in our bellies
and an ache in our eyes. It does not offer instructions.
We do not understand that we must practice
over and over again. The other side of the incantation
is doing the work. It is not enough
to climb this mountain once.

Nina: CAn you talk about starting The Icarus Project with Sascha Altman Dubrul?

Jacks:  Well basically in the fall of 2002 Sascha wrote this article called The Bipolar World about his experience as an activist, writer, traveler, gardener who kept having these episodes of feeling incredible and then flying too high and crashing and burning, and  then getting back up again. He didn’t know how to reconcile the dramatic experiences he had with his mental health with his politics around corporate medicine and psychiatry. While he found that the hospitalizations were horribly traumatic, some of the meds actually really helped and that wasn’t something he could talk about in the sort of punk world he was coming from.

When I read this article—I didn’t know him—I felt like I was reading my life story on a certain level.  I ended up sending him this huge email, and we emailed for weeks, and finally met up and were just so shocked that we had such similar stories. And all these people had written to him with similar stories and all of us thought we were the only ones. We decided to start the Icarus Project as a way for people to come together and talk about their experiences. And so we began the project by creating a website. I did all the art and design and built the website. . . poorly. . . and then other people took it over and built it better. It was just one of those times where you do the right thing at the right time. There was a real niche and all these people started coming together. And then we started self-publishing books on radical mental health, and going on tour, and leading workshops, and bringing more people into the national organizing collective and it just mushroomed from there.

Nina: You have a powerful new book of poetry out, Inbetweenland. It touches on queer identity, mental health, sex, love, your mother dying, being a survivor and so much more. What inspired you to write it?

Jacks: Well I wasn’t writing it thinking I was writing a book. I started writing poems because I needed to make some kind of asymmetrical sense out of the disaster and beauty in my life. The oldest poems in the book I wrote in the year after my mom died which was a really horribly traumatic thing in my life and yeah, so I started writing poems… Well, let me backtrack. I have been writing poems forever, but I started writing the poems that ended up in that book the year after she died and then I just kept writing poems.

When I moved back to the Bay Area in 2009 I got really involved in the queer arts scene and started performing my writing a lot. I was also coming out to myself and the world as genderqueer and polyamorous and the intersection of these things produced a lot of writing and eventually somebody asked me if they could publish my writing as a book. I said yes and that’s what really brought everything together as a book project.

Nina: So talking about being queer… one of the things that draws so many people to The Icarus Project is that it looks at how oppression affects mental health.  How do you think being queer, and the oppression that queer people face in this world, impacts mental health?

Jacks: I think it depends on different peoples’ experiences. Thinking from my experience as someone who was coming out in the ’90s in Virginia and Maryland… there were absolutely zero visible role models of anyone queer that I could relate to in any way. So I had no idea of how the hell you grow up to be a queer adult. I also dealt with a lot of very visible homophobia and harassment from my family and people in the world. I felt very unsafe being queer.

I also felt very unsafe presenting as a woman. I got endlessly cat-called until I cut my hair off. So I would say for me the intersection of oppression around gender and sex and around my sexual choices deeply impacted my mental health… Because of all the harassment and the homophobia and the bullshit I had a ton of shame. I internalized a lot of the things I had been told by my family… that I was ugly because I looked like a man; that nobody would ever love me. I mean these were things that were said outright. I think that a lot of queer people, even if the level of homophobia and harassment they deal with isn’t as overt, still internalize a lot of messages that it’s not safe for us to be in this world; that the love we have isn’t safe; that we are ugly or different or unlovable. That hugely affects our mental health, hugely affects our ability to feel like we belong in the human race and whether we have any idea how to grow up and live lives that we actually want to live.

Nina: In your poem So Many Ways to Be Beautiful you have this great line this is a story about believing you have a broken heart and not a mental illness. I just love that line. Can you speak to that a little bit? What it means to you?

Jacks: Yeah, it makes me think of the line that goes around sometimes in alternative mental health where people talk about trauma informed care, and say, what if, instead of asking, “what’s wrong with you?” we asked, “what happened to you?” I think a lot of people’s mental health struggles come out of grief and trauma and broken hearts and that pathologizing the symptoms of distress that people experience is often totally missing the point and the root cause.

Nina: The title of your book, and one of my favorite poems in the book, is called Inbetweenland. What or where is Inbetweenland?

Jacks: Inbetween. (laughs)  It isn’t any one place. The idea of Inbetweenland first came to me when I was living in the Hudson Valley in New York and I was spending about 2/3s of my time in the Hudson Valley and 1/3 in New York City and feeling on both very literal levels and figurative levels that I lived between all these different realities. In between the country and the city, in between man and woman, in between class backgrounds, in between consensus reality and mythical realms of reality. I felt like I, and a lot of people I worked with and organized with, were bridge builders between all these different worlds and that we were clearing out some sort of Inbetweenland for ourselves because there wasn’t a place in society that made sense for us. And Inbetweenland in the context of that poem has taken on additional meaning for me as a trauma survivor sort of living in between my body and my routine. Not being entirely here and do I need to stick around here? It’s been a pretty active question for me for a lot of years.

Nina: I heard you say, in a Madness Radio interview, something about the symptoms of bipolar as being a stress response. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jacks: Yeah sure. There are so many things I can say. I’m not very fond of the term bipolar. If I had to talk about it in poles I would be more likely to talk about it as poly-polar or multipolar, but given our current social discourse I find bipolar useful as an adjective. What I really object to is the idea of bipolar disorder as this life-long disease. And where I see the stress vulnerability idea coming in is that I do believe that I came into this world with a predisposition to be really sensitive, and under certain kinds of stress to become manic or depressed or one of the other states that are commonly identified with bipolar. I mean I have a pretty intense brain.

I’m adopted and when I was 21 my biological dad found me and he’s diagnosed bipolar. I have three other close family members who are diagnosed bipolar, and a more distant family member who is. None of these people raised me and, hmm, we all have this diagnosis. Yeah, I feel like ever since I was a little kid I have been really sensitive and had tendencies to go into altered states.

You know but when I look at myself and when I look at those members of my family I’ve had a lot more traumatic stress than they have and my “symptoms” have expressed a lot more strongly. And I think people have different kinds of stress vulnerabilities. You know some people are exposed to stress and they get heart disease, some people exposed to stress get panic attacks. If I’m exposed to certain kinds of stress I stop needing sleep much, have forty million ideas, over-pack my schedule and start talking to God. I don’t necessarily think that I have a disorder, certainly not a biological brain disorder, but I do think I have a stress vulnerability.

Nina: Do you see a link between creativity and madness?

Jacks: I mean I don’t think it’s a question with a constant answer, but I definitely know that most of the people that I know who are the most creative struggle with altered states and have windows of time where they can access nonlinear ways of thinking or other realms of reality that help with their creative work. I also think that the intensity of feeling that is experienced by folks that get labeled as mad lends itself to an intensity of expression… And I want to be careful not to romanticize emotional distress and suffering. There’s so much of what I’ve been through that would be labeled as madness experiences that I would happily give back if I could. I would trade them. I don’t want to be a tortured artist, but I do think there is a link between extreme states and creativity for sure.

For more of Jacks’ poetry and visual art visit their website at: http://www.ashley-mcnamara.net/