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Converse-Station, Guest Posts

The Converse-Station: Alma Luz Villaneuva Interviews Gayle Brandeis

February 3, 2020
gayle

A note from Angela: Gayle Brandeis is a person I cherish, not only because she is an amazing and brilliant and generous human, but also because she and I share a bond I would not wish on anyone. I had the opportunity to talk with Gayle about The Art of Misdiagnosis, surviving my mother’s suicide at the Coachella Review and that important book remains on my list of books I would read again. Gayle has just released a book of poetry and Manifest-Station alum Alma Luz Villaneuva took time to speak to her about it. This is their conversation. Enjoy.

Introduction:

Alma Luz Villanueva and Gayle Brandeis first met in 1999 when Gayle entered the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Alma became her mentor, and later, when Gayle returned to Antioch as faculty, they became colleagues; through all of it, they have formed a deep, nourishing, forever friendship. When Alma’s novel  Song of The Golden Scorpion, came out in 2014, the two of them discussed it here; now they have come together here again to discuss Gayle’s new novel-in-poems, Many Restless Concerns: The Victims of Countess Bathory Speak in Chorus (A Testimony), in which Gayle gives voice to the hundreds of girls and women killed by Countess Erzsébet Báthory of Hungary between 1585 and 1609. The ghosts of these girls and women speak in chorus, compelling us to bear witness to the violence enacted against them, and to share their quest for justice—not only for themselves, but for all girls and women to come. A lyrical, polyphonic protest against silence, Many Restless Concerns speaks to today’s upswell of voices claiming their own worth.

Alma Luz Villaneuva: I was very moved by your testimonies, these so alive voices, these murdered/tortured girls women, centuries later, within your book, Gayle. First of all, what inspired you to hear these voices? How did they come to you? I often receive a dream from a character, announcing their arrival. And these voices arrive four centuries later, so alive, each one. Also, how did Countess Bathory come to your attention?

Gayle Brandeis: Thank you so much! When I was pregnant with my youngest son, my daughter, who was almost 16 at the time, was fascinated by notorious women of history, and asked me to buy several books about women pirates and other outlaws. I was idly thumbing through one of these when I found a chapter about Countess Bathory, who I somehow had never heard of before. I was chilled by the fact that she had killed hundreds of girls and women–stories say up to 650–and I found myself haunted by this. Who were all these silenced girls and women? I started to dig deeper, and found there was much written about Bathory, herself, but I couldn’t find anything that put her victims at the center of the narrative. Eventually I started to be haunted by their voices, a ghostly chorus of them–they visited me in a sort of waking dream–and knew I’d have to try to capture them on the page, maybe even bring them some much belated justice in the process.

What voices have you been dreaming lately?

ALV: My current novel in progress which has become a ‘magical realism’ journey, which includes Quetzalcoatl, a Mexican deity that’s both God/Goddess, female/male- I love that. I love her/his voice, I’m listening. In our email exchange you mentioned that writing these voices, these women and girls, came to you when you were pregnant, but the violence you would have to undertake and enter was too much while pregnant. I understand completely, as a once pregnant poet/writer. Our body, mind, spirit, is tuned to creation, not torture and murder. And so, when you finally were able to write these voices what was your experience of being inside their bodies, listening to their voices. As my Yaqui Mamacita used to say to me, “Tienes coraje, niña…You have courage, child.” Tienes coraje, Gayle- these voices coming through you, their spirit bodies.

GB: I am so excited to read your book in progress! *You* have so much courage, dear Alma–you inspire me unendingly.  Thank you for all of your kind words.

And yes, I realized this was definitely not a healthy book for me to be writing while pregnant–I didn’t want the baby to absorb the agony of all the torture and murder I was reading and writing about, although sometimes I do wonder if my early foray into this book helped prepare me emotionally for my mom’s suicide one week after I gave birth. My creative energies shifted after her death–I needed to write about her, about our relationship; I needed to try to make sense of our past together and the brutal way she ended her life. The memoir that came out of this, The Art of Misdiagnosis, was the most necessary and difficult book I’d ever written, and when I was done with it, I felt so lost as a writer. I didn’t think it was possible to write anything that could ever feel as meaningful as the memoir had. Then these ghosts started to whisper to me again, so I decided to look at the early pages I had written, and got sucked right back into the project. It ultimately felt like the right book to throw myself into after my memoir–I was ready to step out of my own story into a grief bigger than my own (for somehow it felt right to continue to write about grief. And to continue to break silences. I had broken so many within me for my memoir, and this project was a chance to break historical silences).

Entering the experience of these girls and women was excruciating–it broke my heart and took my breath away again and again to not only learn what they endured, but to try to enter into their pain on the page (knowing what they endured is beyond anything I can comprehend with my own body, something I acknowledge within the book, when the ghosts tell the reader they won’t be able to comprehend the pain these girls and women experienced). These ghosts no longer have bodies, of course, but I imagined them still being able to access echoes of their physical trauma, as I write here:

“Your body remembers even when you no longer have a body
(some tender part of you still flinches)
(some immaterial nerves still flare)”

I should mention that Bathory’s story has been written about in a titillating way, and I didn’t want to do that, not in the least; I wanted to show the true human cost of the suffering she inflicted. I wanted to force us to confront the horror these girls and women faced, because I believe it’s important to look at inhumanity head on; If we don’t face it, it’s harder to stop it, to prevent it. And I want to use the book as a way to raise awareness of current horror–the devastating number of missing and murdered indigenous women–and to raise funds for organizations working to stop this present-day genocide.

ALV: I love the above quote, “Your body remembers even when you no longer have a body”…I think of the science based fact that our DNA memory/trauma is passed onto the family line, future human beings. These voices had that kind of alive echo for me; that their memories, traumas were being passed onto me, the reader, via their channel, you. Silenced no more; their spirits can now rest, move on to current lives, as in reincarnation, with joy (I hope). Writing these voices, their horrific experiences in the body, must have been a passing through the fire ritual for you as the channel, the writer. And after your mother’s suicide, the birth of your baby, the ritual of fire, that cleansing, so wise, and so hard. Yes, The Art of Misdiagnosis, your memoir, the relationship with your mother, an immense fire ritual, that cleansing.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, there’s a yearly fire ritual, Zozobra, where a huge man figure is burned, wailing all the while. People bring divorce papers, painful letters, their own letters to pain and grief, and who knows what, to add to this fire. I imagined this man figure as The Patriarchy burning to dark ashes, all the pain from that centuries old false power structure. And in the Southwest the pain of native genocide is still felt strongly, and as you write the ongoing missing, murders, rapes of indigenous women. Those thousands of silent voices, their in the body experiences. The genocidal Femicide that continues globally; the millions of girls, women, boys trafficked globally. For those who are receptive, they come to us in dreams. I just included some in my novel in progress, and have a feeling they’re not done with me. As I also believe they aren’t done with you, amiga, gracias a la Diosa…the Goddess in all her guises.

And so, with the ritual of fire, that cleansing, in mind- what gifts did you receive in return as channel, writer and woman? *Again, I love your coraje, courage…

GB: Oh, thank you so much for sharing all of this–I loved hearing about the Zozobra ritual; your imagining of burning the Patriarchy to ash really hits home. May it be so! I’ve used fire to burn things that no longer serve me (and water to do the same, the Tashlich ritual of casting bread during the Jewish High Holy Days) and it’s always such a freeing ritual. This book definitely felt like a trial by fire, and did have a cleansing effect. It showed me I am stronger than I know, that I can face the world’s pain, give voice to the world’s pain, and still find joy on this beautiful, broken Earth. It helped me expand my creative envelope, which makes me want to keep stretching it, to keep finding new ways to approach my work. I agree–these silenced voices aren’t done with me yet, and I’m eager to see where they’ll take me. I envision this book being adapted into a theater piece–I love the idea of a real chorus giving voice to these ghosts–and have a few irons in the fire toward that end. We’ll see what happens! I would love to know more about the silenced voices entering your novel (and to reading them some day!)

ALV: A theatre piece of a chorus giving voice to these Spirits, wonderful. This makes me imagine them all in red (fire) costumes, speaking, witnessing their very brief lives- mostly girls from ten to fourteen, from what I’ve read. Which makes me wonder what Countess Bathory’s voice would sound like, say. Supposedly she had epilepsy as a young girl, with blood swiped on her lips, a cure. And she witnessed cruel punishments as a girl, the royal household. It makes me wonder what her girl voice would sound like, say. However, given the acutely alive voices of her victims, their horrific experiences flesh out the Countess vividly. And so, even briefly, to see/hear her voice as a girl here, for a moment. Briefly. I love that these voices expanded your creative envelope, to find new ways to approach your writing- exciting!

As I journey with my characters, this novel in progress, we keep listening to the silenced voices, as well as to the joyful, singing voices. That balance keeps me going- this is my first all out ‘magical realism’ journey, novel, so I’m constantly surprised.

GB: Surprise is one of my very favorite parts of the writing journey–I love that your novel in progress is offering up so much surprise for you!

Your question about Countess Bathory’s girl voice is such a profound one, and one I’m not sure how to answer. I knew I had to include her in this narrative to some extent, since her actions led to the current state of these ghosts, but of course I wanted to center the narrative on the lives she impacted, the lives she ended, not her (just as some journalists are trying to do in this era of mass shootings, focusing on stories of the victims of gun violence instead of their killers, to avoid giving notoriety to perpetrators of these horrific acts.) That said, she is certainly a compelling and complicated figure, and her childhood does fascinate me. I’m not sure I can access her voice at this point, though. It reminds me of when I started writing my memoir–I was so angry at my mom, it was hard to see her with compassion (and a large part of the journey of my memoir was coming to that place of compassion.) I think I’m still too angry at Countess Bathory to be able to see her clearly, and I think that comes through when the ghosts say “The Lady knew what it was like to leave home at a young age, sent to live with the Nádasdys at twelve so she could learn the ways of the estate before her wedding two years hence.//Does that give you sympathy for her? Have it if you must, have sympathy for poor, poor, Erzsébet Báthory (who had sympathy for none but herself).” I do have some glimmerings of compassion for her, though, and when I think of her girl voice, I really only hear two words: “Help me.” No one did.

ALV: “Help me.” Bathory’s girl voice. “No one did.” Your response says it all, Gayle- punched me in the gut, where truth often lands. And I can hear her small girl voice whisper, “Help me.” As so many girls whisper, shout if they have the chance- the millions of trafficked girls, and boys- who hears them. The voice, your answer, chillingly true. The hundreds of girls she passed her pain onto- the chorus of voices in your book. At last they are heard, and of course I love the idea of a real chorus of voices speaking for them. I imagine their spirits joining those throats, voices. What that space will feel like as they speak their truths. Powerful stuff.

You speak of being angry with your mother; her suicide, your loss, your sorrow. As you felt anger with Countess Bathory; I felt waves of anger, and sorrow, reading the spirit’s alive voices. I’m wondering- do you imagine your mother taking part in the chorus of voices if she was still with us, now. I loved that photo of her in that stand in opera dress/costume, so magnificent. I can almost hear her- her body, her stance. I sense her intelligence, courage, strength in that stance. I also sense how proud of you she is, perhaps cheering you on page by page. I feel my Mamacita’s presence as I write- my joy, sorrow, rage, how it all transforms on the page. My body, every cell. Transformation. Your book, the voices, leads to this, transformation. Healing.

GB: So deeply grateful for your insight, your vision, dear Alma. I’ve had to sit with this question for a while, as you know. After my sister in law mentioned that the book cover reminded her of one of my mom’s opera photos, and I found the photo in question, I was blindsided by how similar the two are, how the red (a skirt in the cover, a cape in the photo of my mom) drapes in the exact same way to the lower right corner of each image. My breath stopped for a moment. I am still puzzling out the connection–both are powerful women who caused harm, although my mom did so on a much, much smaller scale; it’s likely I’ve made other subconscious connections between them, our stories, that I’ll need some time to excavate. But even so, yes, I do feel my mom’s pride in me–she was always so proud of me, even though I could feel her frustration with the fact that I was never as “successful” as she had wanted me to be–and I’m realizing in some ways, I’m carrying on the work she started. She wanted to give women voice, too. She started her organization, The National Organization for Financially Abused Women, to create a chorus of women’s voices to change divorce legislation (and even though the founding of it was based on the delusional belief that my father was hiding millions of dollars from her, the organization did real and important work in the world.) I think she would love to be part of the chorus of this book. I can hear and see her, too, dressed in red, lifting her voice with all her heart.

ALV: I simply love the final sentence of your response, “…lifting her voice with all her heart.” If you’ve made subconscious choices between your mother and Countess Bathory- the pain in your relationship, the pain of the voices you heard, brought to life on the page, what a strange gift of healing. And it seems all healing comes to us as a strange gift- nothing planned, nothing tidy. Healing comes to us with its own life force if/when we’re ready for transformation, to be healed, again. I imagine your mother’s presence in your imagination, body, memories, will always bring you strange gifts; as Mamacita’s presence has for me for sixty-three years.

I am so honored to have this exchange with you, amiga- our first exchange as student-teacher twenty years ago. I immediately saw your brilliance as I read your first novel, The Book of Dead Birds, which has since, of course, been published with so many deserved awards. Then we became friends, and then colleagues as you began teaching in the same MFA in creative writing program. How I loved seeing your shining face of light at our opening faculty meeting- how I loved our deep talks at our traditional Thursday night dinners, with piña coladas. And our humor together- graduation day, so many amazing writers, poets graduating. As we stood in line in our faculty graduation robes, we began to feel a bit wacky, threatening to do The Worm. Right there in our robes. I was crying with laughter, as you were. I love the ecstatic energy you carry and share, from your own being, to your writing. And so, to say it publicly, how grateful I am to know you, and always to read your work, all genres.

Okay, one more question- a brief answer will do. In Bali I walked into a courtyard with an immense eagle perched on steel, tethered by its leg/talon. A woman shaman, healer, walked out to greet me- I asked why the eagle wasn’t free. She asked me, “What is freedom, madam?” Over the years I’ve answered this question in many ways; there’s so many answers, of course. I would love to hear yours, even a sentence.

Mucho amor, amiga, milagros y piña coladas. And The Worm, always.

GB: I’m so honored and grateful to know you, too, my dear Alma, to have this conversation with you. What a gift. Whenever I see an eagle, I think of this question that was posed to you in Bali–in fact, it pops into my head quite often. And yes, there are so many answers, but what speaks to me right now is the very first poem I ever wrote when I was four years old, a poem called “Little Wind” that went “Blow, little wind/blow the trees, little wind/blow the seas, little wind/blow me until I am free, little wind.” I think I somehow knew even then that creativity can be like a wind that blows through us, that makes us free, and to this day, I never feel more free than when I allow that wind to blow through me, when I get out of my own way and allow the poem or story or essay or dance to barrel through, not worrying about how it will be received in the world, just giving it the space to roar.

Thank you again, amazing Alma. You have helped me be more free through your mentorship, your example, and I’m forever grateful for your presence in my life, your presence in the world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Order Alma Luz Villaneuva’s work here.

Order Gayle Brandeis’ work here, including her latest Many Restless Concerns, The Victims of Countess Bathory Speak in Chorus.

 

 

 

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Guest Posts, poetry, Trauma

TRAUMA, MARY OLIVER, AND ME: HOW POETRY SAVED MY LIFE

August 7, 2019
oliver

by Nadia Colburn, PhD

Mary Oliver, who died recently at 83, lit the way forward for me when I doubted that I could ever move past suffering into survival, let alone beauty and joy.

In 2011, I was a poet who had stopped writing poetry. Although writing had long been a trusted friend, holding my hand as I remembered being sexually abused as a child, writing also seemed to hold me in place, to mire me in pain.

Much of the poetry I had once loved now seemed to mirror back to me violence and suffering.  I didn’t want to be the cliche of the unhappy poet, or worse. Two of my poet friends, both also graduates of the my PhD program, had recently committed suicide. I often thought back to Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, two mother poets who had famously committed suicide. I couldn’t help but wonder if poetry was doing us more harm than good.

I was a mother of two young kids when memories of a babysitter abusing me came flooding back. If for a while writing poetry allowed me to express my feelings, I soon worried that the form was holding me in my pain with no way out. I decided to move away from poetry, to write non-fiction instead. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry

SIMPLE BEAUTY (Mas Tequila)

February 27, 2019
frida

By Alma Luz Villanueva

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the word, but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too.”

Frida Kahlo

Me– “Frida, I think if
we had been girls to
gether, we would have
been best amigas.”

Frida– “Are you more
boy than girl?” she
laughs.

Me– “I think I’m half
and half, sometimes the
boy takes over, and
sometimes the girl.”

Frida– “I wouldn’t
want to be all boy or
all girl, that would
be boring, como no,” she
laughs again, stirring the
dark mole, making me
hungry. “Juana will
take over, time to
paint, boy/girl,
girl/boy, I give
birth to paintings, not
children,” she
smiles. Continue Reading…

Activism, Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

“17”- A Poem Plus an excerpt from “Good Cop, Bad Daughter” by Karen Lynch

March 14, 2018

By Karen Lynch. 

17

When you were born, I nestled you in my arms and nursed you on demand to help build your immune system and keep you safe from disease.
933 breast feedings

When you were 18 months old, I cut your grapes in half to keep you safe from choking.
3,406 grapes sliced

When you were 2, I bought you the bicycle helmet ranked highest by Parenting Magazine.
5,327 miles peddled

When you were five, six, seven, I let you watch only PBS kids to keep you innocent of the violence in the world as long as possible.
1,273 episodes Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood watched.

When you were 12, I let you ride your bike across town and prayed for your safety as I waited for your call.
17 petitions offered up to the universe.

When you were sick and no one knew why, I took you to a faraway clinic and found a doctor to heal you.
522 miles driven, 4 doctors seen, 18 bottles supplements purchased.

When you were 16, I found the best driving instructor in the county. I told you to call me for a ride anytime, no questions asked.
2 speeding tickets, 1 fender bender, 0 calls for pickup.

When you left for school today, I gave you an organic Fuji apple with your whole wheat almond butter sandwich. I reminded you to eat fruit and veggies in college next year.
2,367 Fuji apples washed and sliced.
1 Valentine slipped into your backpack.

When the deputy called this afternoon, I was selecting your senior picture.
17 dead. 15 wounded. 152 shots fired.

Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, poetry

The Converse-Station: Laurie Easter Interviews Alice Anderson

August 28, 2017
poetry

Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station. Welcome to The Converse-Station: A place where writers interview writers. With the site getting so much traffic, I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Today’s is no different. It’s between Laurie Easter and the amazing Alice Anderson. 

By Laurie Easter

Alice Anderson is an award-winning poet and author of the new memoir Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away: A Memoir, published by St. Martin’s Press on August 29, 2017. I met Alice at the AWP conference in Washington DC last February, where I picked up a copy of her breathtaking poetry collection The Watermark. Alice’s writing reflects the spirit and charm of her personality. Honest, straight-forward, and intensely beautiful. Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away is a book that sucks you in and doesn’t let go. Both harrowing and full of love, it is a story of survival, resilience, and redemption that will resonate for a long time to come. It has received rave reviews, including starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist.  An excerpt from Alice’s memoir Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away can be found online at Good Housekeeping. http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a45620/some-bright-morning-ill-fly-away-alice-anderson/

 Laurie Easter: There is a tendency to classify works of literature. And while some writers may resist labeling their work, taxonomy allows publishers to target a desired audience. For example, some of the sub-genres of memoir include travel memoirs, divorce memoirs, coming-of-age memoirs, etc. One thing I find interesting about your memoir, Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away, is that the book occupies space within many sub-genres. As readers, we get glimpses of the narrator coming of age in scenes from her childhood and young adult life. We witness her in varying locations: Sacramento, Paris, New York, and Mississippi. We experience the multitude of traumas she lives through and observe how she deals with the devastation of childhood sexual abuse, physical pain and suffering from accidents, Hurricane Katrina, mental and emotional abuse by her husband, domestic violence, and the ultimate threat of losing her children. Each one of these narrative threads could categorize the book as a particular type of story—a trauma and redemption story, a navigating the chaos story, a mother’s fierce love story. To me, the one key element that stands out is Resilience. The book is many things, but above all else, I see it as a story of the resilience of not only this one woman and her children, but of human nature and the body. And that resilience gives me hope.

How do you see this story? What kind of narrative is it for you? If you were to distill it down to one key element to label it, what would that look like? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, Young Voices

Three Attempts at Being Coherent

April 5, 2017
relic

By Sun Rey

referendum.

Was there ever a space where my body was nothing but a placeholder?
That when I wrapped my lips around your tongue, the depth of my flesh was nothing but a barometer: certain pigment, certain
pressure.

Should she do the same, would there be a difference? Is there a difference between two brown queer girls? Or is the space we occupy tied up so tightly by Tiny Minority status that we are fossilized as we are breathing— you can’t tell the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim— I keep hearing you say “oh wow i’ve never met anyone like you!”— you can’t help touching my hair— you spread the baby oil across my bumpy skin with gloves on— i mean—
you saw who i was didn’t you?
you saw who i was you didn’t
just line up the faces i’ve been collecting into neat cornrows:
tall, gay.
brown skin, hairy arms.
arab name, black hair.

Let me pray to my many-fingered God
that you didn’t just mean to choose me as a relic. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, Regret

Finding a Voice

December 15, 2016
fight

By Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh

I was 19 years old the first time I cried in school.

Okay, actually, that was the third time.

The first time was because I spilled grape juice on my white corduroys. Nobody was home to bring me new pants, so I had to go back to class and the other kids laughed.

The second time was when I lost the Arbor Day poster contest to my classmate, Tracy. I was jealous. I thought my poem about a tree was better than her picture of a tree. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. When I did not win, I told my friends at recess to play 3-square instead of 4-square, so Tracy could not play. Which was a total dick move. (Tracy, I’m so sorry. Seriously. I don’t know where you are right now, but if you are ever up for a legit game of 4-square, please give me a call.) Tracy told the teacher, who pulled me aside, told me I was being a dick, and sent me back to the classroom to put my head down. I cried until the bell rang to go home. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts

Listening.

February 4, 2016

By Michele Filgate

 

I.
To not know sound is to know it, because sound is all I’ve ever known. The not knowingness of it is what I live inside of; where I explore. My fingertips on the insulation that keeps the world from being too loud. The acoustic foam is spongy; my head is like the recording studio below my childhood bedroom, where my father spent countless nights searching for answers inside of the vibrations of percussion and loud guitars.

Listen to me, anyone says. And I can’t remember what they’ve just told me. Their voice brooms through my mind, pushes the dirt and dust from one side of my head to the other.

That’s because I’m seduced by the possibility of silence; something I see as evasive and confrontational, sure, but with the possibility of eroding my uncertain self, until I’m as smooth as a stone. Even when telling myself to focus on the space between the noises around me, I am afraid of those spaces. I hide behind noise.

A screen door opens and slams shut in my mind, over and over and over again.

But there are some sounds I squeeze myself into; I want to be held hostage, I want to be blindfolded so that I’m surrounded by nothingness; opened up by sudden thunder outside of my window, clean rain bouncing off of the peeling deck, hissing, warm, cloud tongue on earth, dirt becoming saliva.

My sneakered feet on the pavement one of those hums I suck on. Because sweat and breath and ground take me away from the void of sameness and stillness. I take air like someone who stayed underwater for too long, greedily, hungrily, as if it’s what will save me. During a run, I kite myself down sidewalks and up sloping hills. I am the wind and the stillness, I am the tug on the string. I am also the tree I get stuck in. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, Race/Racism

Thole–. (a lyric on my American guilt)

November 21, 2015

By Joe Jiminez

 

I watched a video:  men’d hurled bodies onto a freeway.

In front of my television I paused, unthinkingly—

Bodies.  Asphalt.  Sky—.

México.  This is where my mother is from—.

With my eyes, I listened.  For something often comes when we shut down frenzy and instinct and let the body be a body—.

A body is a form, a physique, anatomy, skeleton, a soma.

A body is a torso and hair, main parts, heart and nerves, tendons and toes.

At my computer screen, I paused.  I was watching it again—the bodies in México thrown onto pavement.  The frame, and I gawked at the bodies’ dismal shapes, a geometry all at once unfamiliar and wonted because pixels.

Killed men strewn across a dark road…  Eons ago, the land also suffered so many insufferable deaths.

A living room shrine dedicated to a woman named Rosa Diana Suárez:  white party dress, photographs, wall-painted ivy, a tiger in a tree.  Offerings of chicken and chewing gum, and her father made this in memory of her—.

“impunity is the main motive of the gender[ed] crime…”

Don’t you remember?

Land and specie and dominance—how is this not the same?

Thole—.  That is the syllable for it.

How it means to tolerate, so distinct from allowances.  Or the slim permissions we make to seek some horror and not ourselves be eaten with it.  “to endure something without complaint or resistance;  to be afflicted and to suffer—.”

We thole.  You thole.  I thole.

Continue Reading…

beauty, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

This Space

October 5, 2015

By Sarah Miller Freehauf

I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with food—rows of black and white cookies & TV & bedtime. I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with pills & space where no food was allowed to touch. I once ran on a treadmill for three miles in this space, this body, this dispensable cavity. I moved 200 pounds of this space, that body. After—a man came to me with a smile and asked how many miles did you just run? A man came to me with disbelief and asked how many miles I just carried that big space, that big body, that big dispensable cavity.

My mother used to say you better watch it. My father used to tap and smack our bellies and call us belly-women and I hated him in that moment though loved him deeply every other. My brother used the toothbrush more often than I did. My brother used to feel the praise of coaches and mother and father on how he was trim and good and how that boy body was all Midwestern man. My brother was worse off than I. He ate salad, he dispensed it, he ate salad, he moved his large baby fat ridden teen body until some man at the gym said something to him in disbelief—something that sounded like you are good.

I kept running and moving that space of mine and eating things of the earth and everyone in disbelief said how many miles did you just run? How many pounds did you manage to rid? Everyone in disbelief including the man at the gym and our father and my brother—skinny and in shape and everyone proud of him—everyone in disbelief asked how many miles and pounds did that space, that body, that dispensable cavity rid?

And then because that space is dispensable, because of shame, because of fat stored in a place that it is supposed to be, because everyone in their disbelief—I cut my chest. I let a man cut my chest, I let a man remove, in his disbelief, eleven pounds of fat. I let everyone say in disbelief—your body looks better, looks good, looks healthy, looks small. And this body still has the anchor scars and the cookie scars and rotted esophagus to prove that all the disbelief was believable.

And now I run and men watch. And now I run and my mother says good. And now I eat things of the earth and others say how.

Now—I run. I move my body, my space, my figure, my form and most days it is still not enough. But my body moves and that is good. The moving is mostly enough.

Freehauf-headshot

Sarah Miller Freehauf is the Founding Editor of Teenage Wasteland Review–a literary journal just for teens, Editorial Assistant for Divedapper, a reader for [PANK], former Managing Editor for Lunch Ticket, and recently received her MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. More importantly, she teaches high school English and Creative Writing in the Midwest. Her most recent creative work can be found in Stone Highway Review & Poemeleon.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

Guest Posts, poetry

Voices of Our Ancestors.

February 10, 2015

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By Alma Luz Villaneuva.

I began to write my first real poetry on my farm in Sebastopol, California, the early 1970s. My daughter, Antoinette, had turned fifteen, the same age I was when I had her. It felt like a time bomb went off deep inside of me, at thirty. A gathering of words. I was choking with them. An eruption of words. From my womb. A lava of words began to spill from my mouth, eyes, ears, my trembling fingers, pen. I locked myself in the bathroom- the only door with a lock- with pen/paper, sitting on the toilet seat as my kids yelled, “Where’s Mom, do you know where Mom is…” I had three of my own children (my daughter 15, two sons- Ed, 13- Marc, 8) and two ‘stepsons’ (Eric, 8- Jacob, 6). So five children in all at that time, two of them yelling, “Where’s Mom!” Marc began to jump up to the window, trying to look in, his head appearing, disappearing, “Mom, are you in there, Jacob has a dart in his head!” I sighed, but I got my first line down, trembling. One line on the small blank notebook page, but it was mine.

When we first moved onto this beautiful farm on a full acre, a stand of redwoods off to the side of the house, an ancient walnut tree, weeping willow by the creek, peach, pear and apple trees in the back fields- not an orchard but enough for us- two barns across the creek, and the boys would build their forts back there, my older son, Ed, a beautiful tree house, installing a stained glass window he made himself (of a summer sun, a fertile field)…we had a cross burned on our front lawn. Actually, two crosses burned on our front lawn. Friends of ours followed us from the Bay Area- brown, black, white hippies with long hair- they helped us move in, camping for a few days with live music, much singing and dancing too. Hence, the burning cross after everyone left. My daughter screaming at the sight around midnight; there it was, a cross burning on our front lawn. I was shocked, terrified…would they try to lynch us, but I kept it to myself.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing

Scars, Revisited.

January 26, 2015

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By Carly Courtney.

March 2014

“Is this a good time?” she asked, my dying phone clamped between my cheek and shoulder, both hands on the wheel, on a highway I didn’t know the name of, passing a town I didn’t recognize.

It wasn’t. The woman on the phone was calling about my biopsy the day before.

“Some of your results are back, and pathology recommends immediate excision.”

She continued babbling about the tests, but the only phrases I caught were “color strain” and multiple science-y words that start with “m.”

I hung up with the sensation in my stomach you get when you see police lights in your rear-view. My phone had 2% battery left, and I desperately needed GPS, so I sat awkwardly in the doorway of a McDonalds charging my phone and ordering iced coffee after iced coffee. Eventually I made my way along a windy road through the foothills that led me to Auburn where I found I-80, and my way home from visiting my mom and the hospital over spring break.

I had never been so happy to see the dorms when I pulled into princess parking (one of the five parking spots right outside the dorms) and texted my roommate to come help me unload my stuff. The medical assistant told me I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over five pounds with my left arm for five days after the biopsy. “No five for five!” she said, trying to be cheery and helpful. It’s hard to be cheery with a brick-sized ice pack shoved down your bra.

“What did they say?”

I focused on meticulously folding a pair of socks. “They, uh, recommend immediate excision.”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, LBGQ

Fragment.

January 25, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sally J. Johnson.

I am about to bleed over everything.

*

Late one night, after a series of miscommunications strand us, my friend and I ask a cab driver to drop us off at my boyfriend’s place. Leave, we said, we’ll sleep here. When I knock on my boyfriend’s window to see if I can wake him from being drunker than I am, the glass in the pane undoes itself and a blade of it is buried deep in my left leg. I begin pouring more than the sky can be envious of. I pull the piece from my thigh and bleed in latitudes. I howl for my friend to call an ambulance, for something safe to come humming through the night toward me. She tells me later how my heartbeat felt in her hands: hot and unstoppable. But right then she thought she’d lose me.

*

Once, I dated a man who broke me into tiny pieces of myself but first pretended to fix me. He would make benches and useful, holding things out of wood. He made me a shelved mirror, which I treasured, then painted over, then threw away. He once wanted to save me money and so knelt on the cement of his garage to change my worn-to-the-metal brake pads. Instead of fixing anything, he shouldered a dent into the silver of my car. I had to take a car to a professional for the brakes, but left the crater. Later and again and again he would show me how to be useful by doing things useful for him. He built me a box, not out of wood, but from his own insistence that I was just a tiny thing meant to ask for permission to be anything more. I don’t know much about fixing anything except that a wrench is nothing without force or oil. So much of me bent out of place.

*

Somehow, when that window etched itself inside me, my cyclic scream did not wake my boyfriend but I was loud enough to pull the neighbors from sleep. I do not remember this, but they tell me they placed me on the ground before I would have fallen there myself. There, I make a large black stain they will hide under their welcome mat. I fall in and out of falling. I am wet with blood and rain and the water they pour on me to wake me. I am carried into an ambulance and my earrings—tiny pieces of painted glass on wire—are taken from me. Kept safe.

*

When I was very small, I accidentally stepped on a baby bird who had fallen out of her nest. I was barefoot. I wasn’t looking where I was going because I was cradling my cousin’s shoulders. Carrying him with my sister, pretending to aid his pretend wounds (even children know tenderness comes after a fall). I felt the little life of feathers crush beneath me. Of course, stepping on the beak and bones hurt me, but I never tell anyone that is a pain I remember.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Big Sur, Henry Miller and the Book of the Dead.

December 23, 2014

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By Jeff Finlin.

Some things you revisit only to find that the grandiosity of your youth has come back to slap you with a disappointment that you somehow remembered wrong. It’s like the white wash of mind itself has taken over to spite your perception of what’s really going on here. That old gerbil wheel between your ears remembers things in the unreality of comparison and what we’ve seen and heard; not in what’s happening now. The mind spits, moans, worries perceives and bewilders only based on what it’s captured before or is uncertain of.  It’s like a camera spitting out only what it’s seen or heard over and over again. Whether it’s that piece of ass you had or a glorious drunken night under the stars it mostly vomits back our experience more impeccably than it actually was.  It’s incapable, unless trained like a show dog, of just shutting up long enough to contemplate the miracle that lies before us.  The miracle is too terrifying. It’s written as our own book of the dead. The mind has to actually die in order to see that it’s the miracle itself. So in order to feel it we have to read and retain our own demise. We got to know it…realize it … love it… .  And that’s a hard thing to do. The denial of it is way easier. That Grateful Dead skull comes to mind. The day of the dead grins ear to ear in the lighthouse of itself. No …they weren’t kidding.

But then there are those times when the head shuts up long enough for us to experience the living and the dead all at once. Sometimes in a moment of God given clarity, the head, along with the heart, is able to recount the glorious cellular work of past experience in relation to what’s happening in front of your very eyes. It connects the present and past to the cellular chain link within and you are reminded in a phantasmagoric moment of explosiveness who you are, why you are here, and what you are supposed to do and be. You experience how you have become in relation to all your delusion, dreams, fear and psychosis. You come to see the path of mistake, truth and longing as a cosmic weave of grace and beauty, ugliness and pain, and in those fleeting enlightened moments it all somehow makes sense.

That happened on a drive today up Highway 1 in California into the wild and beautiful redwood spiked Big Sur where we had the pleasure of visiting The Henry Miller Memorial Library. The tears and times and heavens rolled like rain into my heart and mind amidst a beauty so big and bold that it made me aware that I was not separate from the river of universe that lay exploding within and out. I had been here before… but it was even bigger than I remembered. It was the personification of “remember to remember” as Miller so eloquently put it. I was somehow magically transported and connected to the first time; the original time of being. I was magically transported to the time I first experienced myself as a writer and human cell exploding into the many.  It was the future past and present all rolled into one Continue Reading…

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