Sara Kirschenbaum: My Writer’s Altar

Stones are just right for the altar because needing to write is as hard as carrying ten pounds of stones on your bike.

If I was to make an altar to my writing, I would pull the half-rotted wooden box out of the compost pile. The one I carried around with me from Ohio to Boston to Oregon. The one that was my bedside table for so many years. The one I tried to grow carrots in two years ago, cause I just didn’t seem to be able to dig deep enough and loosen my dirt enough, and the carrots would be stunted on the untilled ground. So I filled up my wooden box bedside table with muck from my compost pile and mixed in seeds for different color carrots. I hadn’t realized that my compost had so many weed seeds in it and so all summer I was picking the fennel and morning glory starts out of it.  And the purple and orange and red carrots didn’t grow well and only the white ones came up and by the time I picked all the fennel out, it was the heat of the summer and I forgot to water it enough. I didn’t get one descent carrot out of the whole affair. And maybe, for that reason, it’s a suitable base for my prayers. I’d power wash the dirt off this wooden box, drag it in the house and set it up next to my computer in my office.

Next I would lay (or is that lie?) my white silk scarf over the top of it—the one Dalai Lama gave me and 10,000 other Portlanders when he spoke at the MODA center in 2013. The one I used on my little altar at my garden wedding four months ago to Peggy who doesn’t understand why I don’t write more poetry.

On top of the silk I would put my favorite Nova Scotia stone. A beauty of a rock—flat, oval, sea tumbled grays with a three white stripes around its length. It’s the rock I collected in 1979 on my bike camping trip around Nova Scotia with my gentle boyfriend, Ben. Soon after we crested the ridiculous hills of the Cabot Trail and saw the solitary moose that was our reward and came down the hill to a beach of fantastic rounded rocks of every color and pattern, and even though I already had 60 pounds of gear—food, a stove, tent, sleeping bag, clothes, journal, flashlight, sleeping pad, water—in my orange American Youth Hostel panniers, I could not resist adding another ten pounds of stones to carry half way back around the island, and I treasure them all still over 40 years and five houses later, adorning the shelf in my bathroom. Stones are just right for the altar because needing to write is as hard as carrying ten pounds of stones on your bike.

I’d put my first, smallest and most Day-Glo journal, on my altar:  “April 24 1969 help a blind lady in grocery store to get her groceries for her. One thing I gave her is the wrong size I felt nervous” “April 24 1969 I pick up about 80 pieces of newspaper about 10 papers felt like I was helping N.Y” “lost my bookbag. I got real worried because it was a mean persons book in it. I went up to the science room to work on my project (copper coating a key or making metal molicquels move.)”

I would put my tiny blue Swiss Army knife with a customized “KIRSCHENBAUM” engraved on one side on His Holiness’ silk in honor of Karen Karbo’s sentient declaration that “Writing is like having a knife fight with yourself in a telephone booth.”

My mom says, “My father was a failed writer. He didn’t promote himself. He wrote all the time but he was too nice. He was my mother more than he was my father.” I need something of his on my writing altar. I have his microscopically embroidered bib with a tiny swan made of 1,000 miniscule stitches. But he wasn’t a writer yet when he wore it for protection from rice cereal.  So I will place on my altar one of the few manuscripts of his that has survived the tests of time. It is titled, “SALVAGE ROM THE SEA.”  There are several small handwritten corrections, because it is just too much work to retype the whole thing. Eight pages remain, all burned on the upper right hand corner and along the right side, from the fire that burned down his house.

Onto the alter I would drop a handful of Trader Joe’s coffee candies to honor my 33 year old self, keeping awake to study for my MFA while I was raising two kids with an unfaithful sex addict massage therapist husband. One candy = ½ hour longer awake.

I need a candle on my altar.  I have a half-used-up one I made back in my beekeeping days, before colony collapse discouraged me. My kids poured our wax into a galvanized star-shaped column around a cotton wick held in place with putty.  Now twenty years later the candle’s center is burned halfway down and the sharp edges of the star stand tall. It still smells like the smoking burlap from my smoker, and the sweet brown smell of thousands of bees working tirelessly, masticating the clear wax with yellow pollen from our sunflowers, our marigolds, our dahlias.

Lastly I will leave my post-it-note list of words, correctly spelled, that I can’t for the life of me spell: separately—opening—beginning—separation—across—each other —a little— maintenance.

What you will not find on my writing altar: any admonitions in any form to write 250 words a day, to write from 6 am to 7 a.m., to write lousy first drafts, to write every day, to write what I know, to write what I don’t know, to show and not tell, to tell and not show, to show and tell, to “build pockets of stillness into my life,” to write an outline, to “above all, just write!”


Find books by Sara Kirschenbaum at or follow  scherrytree on Instagram.

WitchFest Writing Retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico with Ariel Gore

Ariel Gore’s School for Wayward Writers Presents

The WitchFest Writing Retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico

October 5-9, 2017

Affordable Sliding Scale

Join Us For . . .


Narrative Resistance Writing Workshops with Ariel Gore: We’ll formally meet for two 2-hour workshops where we’ll generate new work, experiment with genre and structure, take writing we’ve already drafted or new writing through thought-provoking revision stations, and break ourselves out of any worn-out limits. Bring something you’ve been working on or just show up with your computer–or pen and paper.

Publishing Skillshare with Rad Dad publisher and Indie-press author Tomas Moniz: A conversation / skillsharing discussion on the pros and cons of DIY publishing versus indie press publishing, book tour experiences, and marketing. Come ready to share your thoughts as well.

Chef-prepared traditional New Mexican family dinner (Yes, there will be green chile apple pie.)

Word & Image with Rebecca Fish Ewan Push the boundaries of form and genre with the founder of Plankton Press “where small is big enough” & author of the forthcoming graphic memoir By The Forces of Gravity.

ABQ Zine Fest — with optional space at the Wayward Writers exhibitor table — bring your zines and books!

Field trip to Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return.

We Were Witches book launch & Wayward Writers reading in Santa Fe and/or Albuquerque.


SLIDING SCALE $45 – $175

Includes writing workshops, publishing skillshare, chef’s family dinner, and space at the Wayward Writer’s table at the ABQ Zine Fest. Pay whatever you like or whatever you can.

Just click “donate” and input the amount you’ll pay. Don’t be shy. All are welcome.

Ticket for Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return will be $10-$18 additional.

Accommodations & transportation not provided, but we’ll figure out carpools, etc., to everything.

Workshops & dinner will take place on Osage Avenue near Frenchy’s Park.

* Scheduling details subject to change. Full schedule will be posted in late July. Email arielfiona at gmail dot com with any questions.

Suggested excursions that may require advance booking:
Ten Thousand Waves (
Talis Fortuna tattoo (
Santa Fe School of Cooking (
Ojo Caliente (one more hour north of Santa Fe—awesome excursion if you’re staying an extra day or two!)
Santa Fe, New Mexico is one hour northeast of Albuquerque and is served by the Albuquerque airport.

If you’re flying into Albuquerque, we recommend making a reservation on the Sandia Shuttle, renting a car, arranging with other participants to share a rental car, or catching the RailRunner train from Albuquerque to Santa Fe (train runs on a limited commuter schedule.)

We recommend planning to arrive in New Mexico by Thursday evening. Retreat activities begin on Friday and go through Monday morning.

Recommended lodging for those with a car—let’s take over this place. The housekeeper/handylady is a badass local artist: Suitable Digs

Registration Open for Spring Classes with Ariel Gore

LIT STAR TRAINING – Class may be full. Email arielfiona at gmail.

The Original Literary Kitchen Online Creative Writing Workshop

Taught by Ariel Gore 

April 1 – May 28

A new session of Lit Star Training – the 8-week writing course taught by Ariel Gore – starts April 1st, 2017. 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 and for people who are beginning or working on longer projects.

The class is $295. A $95 deposit saves your spot.

You can pay the deposit right here:

Online Class Taught by Ariel Gore
March 20 – 31
The personal essay is one of the most enduring and adaptable literary forms, allowing for experimentation and a dissolution of the traditional boundaries between memoir and journalism. Over the 12-day intensive we’ll write every day, survey the form, complete five new essays, explore the market, and polish at least one personal essay for publication.Workshop size is limited, so please sign up early.Full tuition is $185

About Ariel Gore and the Literary Kitchen Workshops

Ariel Gore is s LAMBDA Award-winning editor and the author of nine books of fiction and nonfiction. Her most recent title, The End of Eve, won a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, a Rainbow Award, and was named one of the 10 best memoirs of the year by Library Journal. Her stories and essays have appeared in Psychology TodaySalonMs., UtneThe SunThe San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Her new novel, We Were Witches, is forthcoming from The Feminist Press (September, 2017).


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

—Lani Jo Leigh


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

—Margaret Elysia Garcia, author of Mary of the Chance Encounters


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

—Gabby Rivera, author of Juliet Takes a Breath


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

—Bonnie Ditlevsen


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

—Krystee Sidwell

The God of Sluts

“I think about how Anabelle seemed to believe that sex was wrong for girls like us–and how just about everyone agreed, even the bible. But I am that kind of girl. And somehow, deep inside–in a place that has survived the shame that sets my life on fire every day–I know that they are all just full of shit. I just know that sex is okay, even for girls. And if god and the bible don’t know that, well then god and the bible are full of shit, too.”



The God of Sluts

By Chanelle Gallant



“Well, then I guess there’s no God.”

I decide this as I walk home from my best friend Anabelle’s house in the suburbs of Ottawa. I’ve just told her about my first consensual blowjob, with a boy named Julius. After he came in my mouth, I spat it out and said “no offense.” He laughed. I told her that part, too–how I was accidentally funny. She looked down at the ground under the swings in the empty playground where we were slowly swaying, her perfectly highlighted strawberry blond waves hanging around her face and said, “I didn’t think you were that kind of girl.”

Oh. Shit. Maybe not so funny?

Hot shame rushes across my face, the shame that accompanies every waking moment of being a fifteen year old girl.

On my walk home I think about what kind of girl I am. I think about how Anabelle seemed to believe that sex was wrong for girls like us–and how just about everyone agreed, even the bible. But I am that kind of girl. And somehow, deep inside–in a place that has survived the shame that sets my life on fire every day–I know that they are all just full of shit. I just know that sex is okay, even for girls. And if god and the bible don’t know that, well then god and the bible are full of shit, too. I choose blowjobs and joking with boys about their come over a god that would hate girls like me.

Fifteen years later on a bright August afternoon I’m sitting at a Prisoners’ Justice Day vigil at the Don Jail in Toronto. I’ve been going to protests and vigils and actions for years. This one, though, was the first time I’d ever seen a preacher speak: a tall, thin Black man with warm eyes and a white collar. He stands on a little patch of grass and motions to the jail behind him as he says, “The lives of people locked up matter because all lives deserve dignity. All life is divine.” I feel something old crack and move in my chest.

I’d only even gone to the event because I was hoping to see an ex girlfriend who I’d broken up with in the spring. Our short romance ended when I slammed the phone down on her after she stood me up for the last time–but fuck I still missed her. And now here I was on this little patch of grass outside the city jail trying to look unaffected while my eyes welled up. Quiet down now, heart.

But whatever steel wall I’d erected at fifteen to protect my slutty queer self from god’s Army of Slut-Shamers started to crack. Here now was a different kind of god, a god that apparently saw the value in us all and had bigger things to worry about than what I did in bed. Still. “I am an atheist,” I reminded myself as I left the vigil, a little horrified and angry at my tears. I held my head high, my kitten heels digging into the grass, so the ex would fully appreciate that any tears I had were not for her.

I didn’t give it much more thought until a few years later when I was in Laos sitting in the passenger seat of a jeep barreling down a gravel road, windows open, dust blowing in my hair. I was living in Thailand working with a sex workers’ organization and needed to renew my visa so I popped across the border to Laos, figuring I’d see some of the country before returning to Bangkok. I stayed with a friendly Australian ex-pat who kept his lechery limited to discreetly glancing at my tits when he thought I wasn’t looking. He put me up on his couch and offered to show me around. So that’s how I came to be driving through the rural roads of southern Laos in his jeep with a small piece of bamboo in my hand. We bumped and shook over the rough roads and waved back at the kids in school uniforms piled into the back of a truck ahead of us. It had been months since I’d seen any of my too-radical-for-religion friends. I looked down at the bamboo, noticed its minute and exquisite symmetry and thought: “God.”

That night, alone in my bungalow room near the border, I looked at the book I was carrying. Good god, could I have been any more earnest? It was Wayne Dyer’s Your Sacred Self. “I’m not religious,” I’d reassured myself when I bought it at the  second-hand book shop in Vientiane, “I’m just curious.”

Looking at the dorky yellow cover of that book, remembering the years I spent in Cathedrals (“I just find them comforting!”), and my original college major (religious studies) I realized two things: First, that I was a Christian and had been circling it for years, holding tight to my threads of denial as the evidence mounted.

Second, that I was a white woman from the Global North having a spiritual awakening in the  Global South. The horror: I was Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. I’m an intersectional activist, an abortion-loving queer lady of the night. Surely if god had any mercy, she would make me anyone but Elizabeth Gilbert discovering anything but her Christianity. In a Buddhist country colonized by a Christian one, no less,  all of this having started while listening to a Black Christian preacher whose faith communities were born in resistance to genocide and whiteness.

I whipped my copy of Your Sacred Self across the room in rage, crying as it smashed into the wall. I didn’t know what was more humiliating: being in my own personal Eat, Pray, Love or that I had been heading toward it for years and didn’t know it.


Chanelle Gallant is a writer, educator and long time activist in intersectional sex working and feminist communities. She has writing upcoming in Make/Shift and The Rumpus. You can find her at 

Lake Michigan Writing Workshop with Ariel Gore

Gather with your writing community to create new stories, revise stories in progress, and get kind and excellent feedback. Appropriate for writers at all levels working or desiring to work on short stories, memoirs, novels, or essays.

Lake Michigan Retreat April 22 – 24, 2016 – ONE SPOT LEFT

Come to the midwest for a weekend of writing in a retreat setting. We’ll be staying and writing in a log cabin just steps from inland Goshorn Lake. Hot tub, pool table, kayaking, beach-sitting… and of course writing.
This beautiful retreat cabin is near Saugatuck, Michigan, about 40 minutes from Grand Rapids or 2 hours from Chicago.

$250 for the writing workshop

*Limited Lodging available in the retreat house for an additional fee ($50 – $125 for both night depending on your bed/privacy preferences). Contact to reserve.

First workshop starts Friday evening at 6 pm
Saturday workshop Noon – 3 pm
Sunday Brunch workshop 9 am – Noon

$50 deposit saves your spot.

How to Write a Memoir






by Lisbeth Coiman

Let life hit you in the face

And scar you.

Let it rip through your heart

And squeeze it.

Let it grab your brain

And melt it.

Let it shatter your expectations.


Turn around

Let the way back disappear,

But follow the new path

Opened in front of you.

Let it take you to a wrong turn,

And miss the exit.


Go uphill

Left and right.

Let the road take you

Where you didn’t want to go,

But get there anyway.

Upside down

Inside out


And vice versa.



Sit down.

Let your soul

Heal on paper.

Revolutionary Mothering: An Interview In Letters

 well, theresa turned eight years old last week.  and i have backpacked through tear gas and couchsurfed through revolutions.  i have also cried harder and longer in fear and anger and loneliness, more than i could have ever imagined possible.  i have been more scared and more fearless, loved harder and had bones broken and pride broken and god, its been weary. i did what i wanted, but im not sure if id truly knew the price this world would extract for doing so, if i still would have done it.

–Mai’a Williams

Sarah Maria Medina

12/04/2015 Sunday

S.C.D.L.C, Chiapas, México

Dear Mai’a,

I’m writing to you from barrio Guadalupe, from a little house that rests alongside the road that runs past the farm lands. For the past few nights, after my daughter slept, I read chapters from your book, Revolutionary Mothering, all the while firecrackers popping off from the church up the hill. As I read the essays, poems and plays by the different mamas included in the anthology, I found myself humming, snapping, nodding, “Yes, damn, yes.” Someone was finally saying the words I’ve been searching for, and I was so filled with emotion, because, at the same time I was feeling so blessed to hold all these powerful mama stories in my hands, I was grieving the absence of this book from when I was a teenager. Grieving back to when at eighteen, I looked out on my future, and had to decide whether or not to keep my first pregnancy. Only fathered by my Puerto Rican pops weekends and summers, raised by a white mother on a riverboat, I was well politicked on feminist abortion rights, but so badly needed to hear about reproductive integrity, about the racism in overpopulation discourse, about the forced sterilization of Indigenous and Puerto Rican women. I found these discourses, but not until later, and they were articles that I came across because I searched hard for them through old microfilms at Hunter in New York, when I was looking at the Young Lordettes’ histories (the women of the Young Lords). I wish that your anthology had existed then, and am so hopeful for all the mamas who will find this book in their future. – I just had to pause my letter to you, and run up to our little herb garden, from where my daughter was calling me. “Mama,” she was shouting. A flower had bloomed, one that we hadn’t planted. It turned out to be a lily, and she felt that was a blessing as her name means water lily in Taino. – Yes, this anthology you having lovingly pieced together with your co-editors, Alexis* and China**, gives me hope. Now it’s evening and time to heat up the boiler for our baths. The dogs of the barrio are howling, and the birds that live in the tree across from our house are singing out their last songs.


Sarah Maria


Mai'a Williams

Dear Sarah Maria,

i am so sorry for this letter coming so late.  when i first read it was the day before i was moving from quito, ecuador, back to the states. there were half-filled boxes and maletas and a thousand tiny things to do before the flight.

then we arrived in minnesota and it was time for theresa’s birthday party on the 19th of april.  i am always nervous about christmas and birthday for her.  i am not very good at making celebrations for people.  the presents, the decorations, the balloons, the food.  i am better at telling strange stories and taking us on strange adventures.  at dancing with her one in the morning on top of a roof to salsa and reggaeton.

then i fell ill for the past week.  some virus.

and now i am finally writing you.

when we first dreamed of revolutionary mothering as an anthology, i said to lex, i want it to be the book i was looking for when i was pregnant.  the book that would tell me that this wasnt easy.  when i was pregnant i didnt feel like a madonna, like some glowing ethereal creature.  i felt heavy and tired and nauseous and tired and hungry and tired.  i felt like i was preparing to go to war.  i remember my in laws and my mother and my husband and well everyone around me telling me with words and looks that i was now going to settle down, have a little house with a little yard and a little life with a little child, and i would see that would be enough for me.  all of my big dreams of traveling and revolution and backpacking through war zones and dancing late at night to the sounds of live fire and live bands would have to be put aside.

well, theresa turned eight years old last week.  and i have backpacked through tear gas and couchsurfed through revolutions.  i have also cried harder and longer in fear and anger and loneliness, more than i could have ever imagined possible.  i have been more scared and more fearless, loved harder and had bones broken and pride broken and god, its been weary. i did what i wanted, but im not sure if id truly knew the price this world would extract for doing so, if i still would have done it.

when theresa was 6 months old, we moved to san cristobal de las casas and studied spanish for a couple of months and lived there for 6 months, until we ran out of money.  i loved it.  it was 2008 and i carried theresa in a rebozo and breastfed her in bars and hung out with zapatista women.  theresa, of course, doesnt remember any of this, so she is determined that we should go back there to live, now that we are done with ecuador.

so tell me about being a mama in chiapas, and maybe someday we will meet each other face to face in southern mexico.

with much love,




Mexico City, DF, Mexico

Dear Mai’a,

I am writing to you from a little hotel room we rent sometimes when we come to Mexico City, when we need to escape everyone and everything for a few days. The sunlight is pouring in through the yellow drapes from the balcony, and I’m sitting on the hardwood floors in the only spot that has Wi-Fi in our room.

We came to DF this week for a poetry reading in a Queer Festival of Languages, and there has been something so liberating for me to have my poems translated into Spanish, almost as if they take on a new life of their own, become a story that is no longer just my own. And that is why, this letter is also arriving later than I wanted it to.

I like so much your description of your immediate community suggesting in small ways that you would settle down in a little house once your daughter was born, and how you sought the opposite, carried her through countries in the midst of their revolutions, danced with her across rooftops to Reggaeton and Salsa, sought new words to explain oppression and racism and liberation. This is beautiful and inspiring, and I too would have loved to have held your book in my hands as I was pregnant, and also as I was leaving the little cabin the forest that my daughter spent her first months in, because sometimes I feel sad that she has had so little stability, so many houses. But then when I read your words, I feel inspired by this community of other mothers that extends out across the world from us, that have chosen another way of raising their child, and I feel less alone in this.

For me, living in Mexico, has offered me the space from the wounds I suffered when I grew up in the States, and this space has offered me the time to grow as a poet and writer, to turn my wounds into stories, into art. And this is something I also like about Revolutionary Mothering, that it doesn’t stop at the essay form, but that there is also a play, and poems and art. And that mothering includes queer ball culture and other radical inclusions of what it means to mutha our children and our communities.

I like to imagine you with Theresa tucked into your rebozo in Chiapas, meeting with the strong Zapatista women. We have travelled up the mountainside to visit their caracol. And have been blessed with being surrounded with such an openness about child raising, an inclusion of children within the public sphere, such as how normal nursing is in public here in the mountains.

You inspire me Mai’a. How are you and Theresa settling into Minnesota? Are your wings readying to fly away again?

Until our paths cross,


Sarah Maria


dear sarah maria,

it is my turn to apologize for the late reply.

summer has finally come to minnesota, the days get longer and longer and the evenings are filled with the smell of sweet grass and the sound of birds and insects.  it has been so many years since i had summer in the states.  oddly familiar and yet bringing back all these memories of being a kid, riding bikes and reading books in the back yard.  picking dandelions and capturing fire flies in small glass jars.

sometimes i feel bad too that theresa has had so little stability. god, so many apartments, countries, languages, friends, sets of clothes, political realities. but then, last year, i was talking with china, another editor of the revolutionary mothering anthology, and she talked about moving so often with her daughter.  often times out of economic necessity.  and i met her daughter, who is in her twenties, and who is awesome.

and when i hung out with china, i saw so much of myself in her.  she was the punk rock mom, back when there was no such thing as punk rock moms.  i am the global activist mom, in a time when there is no such thing as such.

and now, of course, there are punk rock moms!  there are books and magazines and blogs and fashion dedicated to the punk rock mom lifestyle.  and maybe, a couple of decades from now, there will be global activist moms networks and co-ops and shared housing and poetry readings.  it seems almost inevitable, as the world on the one hand grows smaller and on the other hand as it becomes clearer that our survival requires that we fight for this planet and the most marginalized among us.  whether that be plant or animal, icebergs or babies.

oh!  i can just imagine how amazing it must be to hear your poems translated into another language, especially spanish which is a language which has its own rhythm and poetic life.  how beautiful.  every time i write to you, i just want to pack up and go to mexico.  i still havent seen frida’s house.

i am sad that this may be my last letter to you in this series.  i have thoroughly enjoyed this.  it marks my transition from ecuador to minnesota.  i have no idea what we are going to do next or where.  this summer, theresa is taking ballet and hip hop classes.  i applied to a montessori school for her near her father’s house in case we are here in the fall.  i bought a 1970s shwinn coaster bike so i can get around this small college town.  i am writing a lot in dollar store notebooks in downtown cafes and taking my health seriously for the first time in years.

perhaps we will see each other in mexico.

la lucha continua,


ps did you see this weird lil interview that lex did with me about revolutionary motherhood?  if not, here you go…


Here is Maia’s website:


New Prose by Anna Doogan

People don’t seem to talk much about Vanport anymore. They razed the remains, put Delta Park there. Added a sports complex. . . The Black families in Portland these days are still pushed North by gentrification. They cling to the edges of the Albina neighborhood, Killingsworth, MLK Boulevard.



The weekend before Christmas, we take our kids to see the lights at Portland International Raceway, near Delta Park. A drive-through display of animated lights and holiday scenes. We know it’s a mistake once we get there.

“We should have come earlier,” my husband mutters as we swing into the line of cars.

We’ll sit in the line for two hours, three kids in the back bouncing up and down impatiently. In the dark, the line of waiting cars swirls and snakes, twists back to the highway and doubles around again. Bored volunteers wave us through the line with flashlights, pass candy canes through the windows.

We don’t seem any closer to the entrance, and the kids are getting restless, now wired on sugar. I stare out the window at the black fields and marsh of Delta Park, try to make out the shapes of frozen trees.

“This used to be Vanport City,” I tell my husband. He nods. He already knows. We stare out at the blackness of the land, listen to the Christmas carols on K103.

Vanport City was a cheap and poorly constructed attempt at a federal housing project in the 1940s. The largest housing project in the country, the second biggest city in Oregon.  A quarter of Vanport’s  residents were Black, unable to find  non-discriminatory housing within Portland’s edges.

When the Columbia River started rising, the Housing Authority told Vanport residents that they’d have ample warning before a flood hit. Time to move safely, time to prepare.

Instead, a 10-foot wall of water burst through Vanport later that same afternoon, destroying every building. Some killed, thousands permanently displaced. The entire city demolished by flood in one afternoon.

Displaced Black families moved to the North of Portland, Albina. The only area where Blacks could find affordable housing, redlined by banks as too risky for investments.

People don’t seem to talk much about Vanport anymore. They razed the remains, put Delta Park there. Added a sports complex. It has seven softball fields, nine for soccer. They put the Portland International Raceway there, host 5k runs and motorcycle shows. The annual  Christmas light exhibit. The Black families in Portland these days are still pushed North by gentrification. They cling to the edges of the Albina neighborhood, Killingsworth, MLK Boulevard.

Our car slowly inches forward in line. I suddenly feel sick, waiting here to see displays of twinkle lights shaped like reindeer, like Santa Claus. All I can think about is hats and shoes floating on water. Black mothers rushing children through flooding streets, back alleys. Brown hands sifting through cold water. Belongings left behind, forgotten.

My husband rolls down his window, forks over eighteen dollars to the waiting attendant so we can drive in to look at the lights.

Our children bounce in their seats, shriek with happiness.  Point out the glittering polar bear, the dancing elves waving in the cold air.

Underneath us, ghosts of parents and children and cities. Swallowed by rushing black waters, shoved far underground.

Guns in Three Parts – new prose by Amber Finn


“She wondered what a Lady would have needed a gun for and then decided she probably knew. ”



She thought carefully for a moment before choosing a gun. The faded red velvet lining of the box somehow made them both more dramatic and beautiful than it would have if it still retained its original scarlet, valentine hue. She knew he preferred the one with the black handle so her first instinct was to avoid it. As if touching it would some how alert him to her presence. When he’d first shown her the twin pistols he’d dismissed the mother-of-pearl stock as a “Lady’s gun” even though they were identical in size, weight and shape. She wondered what a Lady would have needed a gun for and then decided she probably knew.

She was relieved that she wasn’t afraid of them anymore. Having decided she wrapped her fingers firmly around the gun and then closed the box and hid it where she’d found it. She could never be sure that he didn’t use hairs or other invisible means to make sure drawers stayed shut. She’d found a few over the years and had been grateful that her blonde hair was fair enough to pass for his white more than once. He was more complacent these days or was too distracted to pay much attention to her. Maybe the sheer isolation of her situation made him believe she was incapable of trouble. She hoped so.

Backing into the hallway so that she could run to her room if she heard the front door knob rattle, she held the gun up to the light of the open window to check on the bullet chamber. It was full as she’d expected and she was relieved that she wouldn’t also have to go snooping for bullets. Already warm in her hands, the barrel and handle shone more like jewelry than death.   The sun darkened through the window and she hears thunder rolling in the distance. The afternoon monsoon is on its way and the moment passes her.  The gun now dull metal in her hands.  She runs down the hallway to her bedroom and she circles the bed before hiding the gun under the mattress on the side of the bed farthest from the door.  She is terrified and giddy and crosses over the threshold without feeling it..  She will look back for decades at this moment, at this choice and every time it will make her stronger. She is aware of simply not caring how this ends, only that it does now.

She will never know if the gun is what made the difference.  If he noticed it missing or noticed something different in her. Maybe it’s because she is almost thirteen and he is the one who changes but whatever the cause he stops coming into her room at night.  She waits in the dark with white knuckles gripping just beneath the edge of the mattress.  She is ready and determined to do whatever she has to but  he doesn’t come.



She felt a reassuring calmness spread through her. A new feeling she would have many more times throughout her life. It was the confidence of having made the right choice while bracing herself to act on it.

She reached the top of the stairs, pushed through the door and walked over to where she knew she would find it. It was heavy but modern at least and she double-checked the safety before going back downstairs.

The boy had shown up a few weeks ago. Snarling, on his bike, he chased kids throughout the complex and bruises and raw skin were the reward if he caught you. A few days ago he’d caught her best friend on the tennis court and had shoved her faced roughly into the ground. Her friend’s older brother saw the whole thing but did nothing and her heart felt heavy that someone big enough and old enough to stop this was too afraid to do anything.

No one would ever ask but she felt tired of this. Bullies were something she knew and they never stopped on their own.

He was still outside her house–gloating over the child next door and refusing to move body or bicycle from the stairs. He grinned at her return until he saw the dark grey shape in her hand. She really liked it when he stopped grinning.

“Go away now.” Her voice was much calmer than she had hoped. “Never come back here.”

“Shit! Put that away!”

He was already backing up, pulling his bicycle behind him. “Leave.”

The gun is as steady as her voice and she thinks she can see his eyes watering. This is fantastic. She suddenly didn’t care anymore what trouble would follow this.

“You’re crazy!”

She would take crazy if it meant that he was the one who was afraid this time.

“Don’t come back to find out.”

She can see the word bitch halt and tremble on his lips.  He’s too scared to let it tumble into the air.  She doesn’t lower the barrel until he is gone and only then does she see the same light now shining in her heart on the faces of the two smaller kids from next door.

“He won’t come back.” She tells them.  And he doesn’t.



The first time she goes to a gun range is on a late morning near the end of the short Washington summer. There is no one else there, just a few empty beer cans lined up at the end of a shale gravel pit and a few hopping ravens near a garbage can. The ravens scatter when the dusty flatbed pulls into lot.

They have been arguing all morning and she knows she’s lost this round but keeps hoping that something will happen to interrupt his plans.  She watches as he pulls two rifles from the gun rack in the back seat of the pickup. Her heart is pounding as he leans them on the fender and then walks to the end of the field to arrange the cans the way he wants them.  She thinks briefly that she could pick one of the rifles up and shoot him with it, end this all here.  But she doesn’t know if she can hit him and then what?  She will have still had to shoot one. Her mouth tastes like pennies.

Then he’s back.  “Can you see those ok?”

She wonders if he’s crazy.  “Sure.”

He unloads and reloads the first rifle for her, talking as he goes.  He reminds her of the kickback even though she remembers perfectly well the day he came home from bird hunting with a large gash on his nose because he had forgotten that one time.  Even her mother had giggled.  He holds the rifle up to the inside of his left shoulder and mimes shooting at the cans.  “Just like that.”

He holds out the rifle to her.  The dark opal ring on his hand glitters.

For some reason fear skips over some invisible line and suddenly she is angry.  She hates this.  She hates not wanting to touch his guns and not being given any choice.  He must be out of his mind to teach her to do this.  Why does he think she won’t use the knowledge against him?  Why does he think either of them will still be safe if she knows how to do this?  Like the times he pulls the truck onto an abandoned logging road and tells her they won’t go home if she won’t get behind the wheel.  They have changed homes enough times that he might be telling the truth this time but still she is so afraid that her teeth chatter and she pulls her school backpack into the driver’s seat  and sits on top of it so that she will be able to see over the dash better. She thought that nothing could scare her more than trying to control the truck and then this morning she finds out she is expected to take up shooting. She hates him.

She glares at him and grabs the other rifle. Not the one he wants her to take but the newer one still leaning against the truck. It is warm in her cold hands, the opposite of what she expected. She lifts it heavy to her shoulder and closes one eye while she tries to make herself steadier. She wants to close both eyes.  Instead she breathes in and she fires. The sound is worse than she expects and her ears are ringing even though she can still hear the last few echoes of the shot in the distance. There is a hiss behind one of the cans as the bullet buries itself in the shale hillside. She fires again  The middle can makes a thok sound and falls over. She can hear him start to congratulate her but she keeps firing until all 8 rounds are spent and five of the cans are knocked down. Her shoulder is sore like it’s been punched a few times in the same spot and she rolls it around to try to get some of the sting out. She leans the rifle up against the truck again and climbs into the cab and shuts the door. She can still smell the sulphur in the hot air. She doesn’t watch as he gathers up the shells and puts the guns back in the rack.  Instead she runs her fingernail through the dust on the window sill of the truck and turns over the feeling of having won something though she can’t say exactly what it was.

Amber Finn is an urban farmer with culinary training. After spending the ‘90s in Portland as a prototypical pierced and tattooed lesbian barista, she packed up her wife and two children to return to her homeland of British Columbia. She lives on the edge of the Salish Sea amid many progressives who value sustainability but still manages to find people who piss her off. When she’s not herding chickens, she is increasingly active in local politics.