Observations, Revelations & Lamentations:

by Anastacia Tolbert

Roke is Here (1)

typhoon hits.
thought. wind.
thought. rain.
small things
lose control.
spins around
like a boy on
a tire swing.
if a window
hymen washed
away too young.
too scary for
girls to play.
mended heart.
when the typhoon
hits thought.
can you stay–
put together.
if you can
beating rain
in the middle of
like the
second grade
gym rope
you couldn’t climb.
when the
typhoon hits
all the sounds
tea kettle
cracked birds eggs
& jazz. favorite things.
sing–find shelter.
wonder where your
place is in the
land of now.
root for tree barely
wind remembering
should you shake with
fear at the thought
of being swept
up, up & away.
should you shake
your groove thing
for the last time.
should you revel
in awe of
beautiful destruction.
when the typhoon
hits thought. about
dinner. what is
the perfect meal
calamari & soggy socks.
wonder if homework
is still important
if there is
nothing standing
no lessons
to be taught.

Train Station Ramblings in Japan


the hand holdy thingies look like stirrups, like plastic handcuffs, like sad triangles
really wanting to be circles. today they are life savers. hold all the people up when
it feels like the world is moving too fast. too slow. running late. screeching. the hand
holdy thingies bring it all in perspective: if you don’t hold on to something, you will fall.

the train has its own sound


my son says to me, “i could definitely see wd40 being a rappers name.” we make a rap about things that are rusty. machines that need oil. about things that get stuck. stiff. we keep this as silent as possible. when he realizes he is cold he slips his hoodie on. we pause.

no one snores on the train


i envy people who can sleep on the train.
how much trust it must take
to know you will wake at just the right moment.
to know someone could be taking your picture.
to let your defenses down among strangers—& those you love.

big eyed babies eat crunchy snacks on the sly


children under 3 on the train can’t help but stare at me. what on earth is a brown

woman doing here? where did she come from? where is her papa? & why on earth is she smiling at me? oohhh i like her earrings. how the shell dangles every time she breathes.

the next stop is m a c h i d a


every stop is announced in japanese then english.  a monotone voice preparing you for what’s ahead. how i wish this could happen outside of the train. the monotone voice preparing me for my next stop. a big map to show me all the different ways i can get there


Tokyo Tower Visit


we shrink ourselves behind elevator doors
our voices held over
our eyes moving a million miles per second                                         up
a small giggle hides in the corner
her body encased in an orange snuggie & awe


up here
all the world is a board game
all the men buying up property
& begging to be banker


two small branches
spread out on the look down window
no need for the base
no need to be rooted in fear
the layered shirts saying
i’m not afraid to see the world as it is are you?


something about lady gaga
her face plastered on the walls
her video the wax museums national anthem
what would happen
if i walked through tokyo in gaga form
all the people wondering
if i was born this way
we love gaga because she is not afraid of earthquakes
she doesn’t treat us like the country with a plague or
talk to us as if we have no core.


the sign says in case of an earthquake
& yet here i am
up high & wobbly
could it be i cast fear off
personifying fuck you in my blink  of tourist rage
after all we are not in love anymore
terrors pleasure a knotted stomach
sweaty palms melded in denim pockets


we shrink ourselves behind elevator doors
our voices held over
our eyes moving a million miles per second                                         down
a small giggle hides in the corner
her body encased in an orange snuggie & awe

Deployments End

the daddy soldiers inhale leave time
uniformed asthmatics
huff for hot water
for home cooked meals
for gun-less snoring
for a nerf ball game with a newly potty trained son
& shopping with a daughter masturbating for justin bieber

the base is founded on imprints
all the stars & stripes bleeding
simultaneously singing the blues
prostrating to an uncle-god
photo album or chief
understand when the daddies come home
an offering had to be made

leave your soul at boot camp
hide your skin in a bottle
or fertile womb


Beginning at the End


when you tell people you are getting a divorce first the look. the poker face look. the look saying “what should i be looking like look,” a person has to first wonder if this is a good thing or a bad thing and is divorce in and of itself a good thing. it’s kinda like when you tell someone you had surgery. surgery itself is not a good thing but if the person needed surgery like let’s say to remove a huge boulder from your heart  then yay. the person should give the look of yay. but lets say you’ve been married for 18-years and it’s a huge investment and you have children and you still love the person but they are an ax murderer. jeffery dahmer in a way, going around taking your body parts and eating them in front of you while you suggest other dinner options. then yay. give me the look of yay. yay to divorce. and this is when people tell you things like “let’s have drinks to celebrate your divorce” and you don’t really know what to say—yay—is good but your heart, body, mind and spirit aren’t exactly feeling yay-ish so you say “cool!” and you mean cool, like you mean it’s cool that someone wants to celebrate your new freedom but you feel guilty that you are celebrating the end of a thing which you still can’t quite process is ending because you are just beginning to understand the end. yay. but then if you tell someone you are getting a divorce and they give you the look of “ohh”. the “ohh how sad for you look,” you don’t know how to react to that either because if they only knew the hell you’ve been through perhaps they wouldn’t be sad but feeling all yay for you. and this is the issue. what are you supposed to feel when it’s over. when this is no intermission or pit stop. when this is the end god damn it to hell and all sales final and shit. yay.

. 1/2

when your sons( the ones you and he made) hybrid teenage friends go 4-year-old and favorite blankie on you and ask you about the other half they especially like…the other half who interrogates them barney rubble style while drinking oreo cookie milk and plopping adult buns in the center of abercrombie and fitch and urban outfitter territory you might do the oh shit i have to tell them squirm dance: left hand hugs the right hand, lips lean on teeth and eye lids continue to try and focus. refocus. focus. refocus. blink. wink. you say something like—17-year old bullshit wrapped in but he will be here for your graduation. and they all say in unison yay then after a bit of post standardize test inference-ing say, ohh. and you pull it together like  michelle obama on christmas break and promise to make chai rice crispy treats. promise to still be the hang out house. promise to burp and fart and quote the latest jokes from family guy. as best you can. yay.


dear sirs,

hide this letter. not like proverbs you hide in your heart. not like the tennis balls you hide from the family pet. not like you hide the rocky road ice cream in the back of the fridge next to her ice cream sandwiches. not like that. hide this letter in your folder of fabrications. family friendly. falsehoods.

if your mistress gets all weepy-woeful about your wife, comfort her. hold her close to your other heart. tell her your wife is a stripped dish towel but she on the other hand is a bounty picker-upper—scented floral print. passion pink.

if your mistress throws her one of a kind whatever’s at your face she’s insanely upset. because you block called at midnight & not 7 like you pinky promised in the service elevator—tell her you were playing daddy: daddy making pancakes, daddy at the movies extra butter & gobstoppbers, daddy dinner at that one place daddy, daddy read a story daddy. daddy.

if your mistress is sorta-kinda distracted while you makesex to her in your wife’s bed tell her you love it when she closes her eyes. when she blocks out everything. when she acts as if your wife & children do not exist. like poof. like never. like nothing. like nobody.


Do Not Die

how queen amina you are to still              post-surgery      post flesh debauchery
& beginning endings
to have the ovaries to feel love & compassion
after all the bludgeoning you’ve been through:

  1. first make the heart feel safe
  2. gently take the heart & cuddle it
  3. tell it words it needs to hear
  4. display some actions which point to the words & some which do not so as to confuse dear heart
  5. once dear heart is relaxed & safe find a large ax & cut it into tiny pieces
  6. take the pieces one by one & sometimes put them back together so as to confuse dear heart
  7. while dear heart is bleeding find 7 other dear hearts & treat them well: keep them refrigerated so that they will continue to beat
  8. return back to dear heart & slowly over a course of 18 years feed it to rats, cockroaches & snakes.
  9. Pretend it was a total accident
  10. Tell dear heart you are sorry & you wish you could put her back together                     still

after you’ve been murdered massacred mutilated & motherfucked
dear heart
& even if your beat is low
dear heart
you are still pulsating
& even if the pulsating is a metronome-ed scream
dear heart
no band aid or shea butter can slick away what you’ve seen
no retail therapy could ever skinny jean your scars
super star lady goddess
i’m sorry your love has been reduced to oatmeal
& the ________ you thought you had
is a b-rated movie where all the fairytale characters
are sleeping in each other’s beds
& all the happy endings
various characters being punked
how brave you are still
to have the ovaries to feel love & compassion
after all the lies you’ve taken inside your vagina
held them there as if you could stop them from coming
dear heart           & even if your beat is low             dear heart
do not die           do not die                                           do not die

Just Like That

we’ll just              take the               right fallopian tube &
fold the left one down—you know the part that looks like baby fingers wiggling

so this   kinda thing
won’t happen again

such a   fluke an anomaly             crazy medical mystery
now isn’t it

to have this happen
to you

now when you are                          40
& your tubes were tied in            1998

before you know it
will be your old self

in            a              jiffy
& you won’t even remember

for five months


& those skinny jeans
will just button right up

to where they should be
won’t that be good                         ?

Orphan (1)
when the body decides it doesn’t want a baby
makes her an outsider     on the inside
makes her blood  bebe beg
for life inside the throne                                                                                           sorry but…the uterus says you can’t           
makes her miniscule drop of blood in a jar of jam                                              come in

a biodegradable sack of would have been
in a world of is
when the body decides it doesn’t want a baby
doctors label her                   can you fuckin’ believe it
a medical anomaly to       chat about over carrot sticks & hummus
summons each other        behind expensive glasses
& stiff egg shell coats        barely legal voices say things like                            you didn’t want a baby
.                                                                                                                                      anyway right

                                                                                                                                     your tubes were tied long ago

egg         ectopic                 the topic              egg         a topic                   ectopic                 the topic              egg
egg         ectopic                 the topic              egg         a topic                   ectopic                 the topic              egg
egg         ectopic                 the topic              egg         a topic                   ectopic                 the topic              egg
egg         ectopic                 the topic              egg         a topic                   ectopic                 the topic              egg

Orphan (2)

when you get out of the shower
your nipples still the size of silver dollars
your glow now a black light
you try to dab
just dab they tell you
do not rub the incisions
do not irritate the little lines
do not make the little lines remind you
your house is wrapped in caution tape
your tenant died inside

when you get out of the shower
sobbing/snotting why & how come
& no one is there
& you try to dab
just dab they tell you
you imagine the conversation
muffled. static with blood & pink cigars in between


you– why didn’t you stay for 5 more months

dead baby- i changed my mind or your house was inhabitable or too much caution tape stuck to my eyes or your relationship wasn’t steady or  you didn’t need any more kids or your zen was all fucked up or i’m expensive or i changed my mind or gas is too expensive or my father has 12 mistresses or you were going to be in a car accident or the world might end in 2012 or i have bornophobia or i changed my mind

Observations, Revelations & Lamentations:

Was It Good for You?: A Feminist Reflection on the Pleasures of Plot

by Rosalie Morales Kearns

Rising Action: Where Have I Seen This Before?

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class or read a book about fiction-writing techniques, you’ve probably seen the Freitag triangle. Teachers like to use this diagram to illustrate the movement of the conventionally linear narrative. Basically the message is that a story, in order to be a story, has to contain rising action, a climax, and a denouement, although it’s agreed that in contemporary fiction the climactic moment is likely to be “quiet” (interior, epiphanic) rather than overtly dramatic, and the denouement may be brief or merely implied.

Now, is it just me, or does this pattern bear a remarkable similarity to the male sexual experience? Think about it. The story’s humming along, and things get more exciting, and more exciting, and more exciting, and it all builds up to a peak, an explosion of sorts (if you will), after which the story kind of droops (so to speak).

You may be wondering why I find this problematic. After all, some authors have described alternatives to the rising-action model. In The Art of Fiction John Gardner briefly mentions two. The first is what he calls a “juxtapositional” novel, whose parts “have symbolic or thematic relationship but no flowing development through cause and effect” (185). This seems similar to what Madison Smartt Bell calls the “modular” design, in which “narrative elements are balanced in symmetry as shapes are balanced in a symmetrical geometric figure, or as weights are balanced on a scale” (Narrative Design, 214). Bell’s modular examples include the Canterbury Tales; The Arabian Nights; Harriet Doerr’s Stones for Ibarra; Carolyn Chute’s The Beans of Egypt, Maine; and Faulkner’s novels Go Down, Moses; The Unvanquished, and As I Lay Dying. Perhaps we could also put in this category novels that I think of as episodic, quilt-like, or kaleidoscopic, such as Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett, or Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine.

Gardner also includes a brief but intriguing description of what he calls the “lyrical” novel, examples of which include the works of Proust and Virginia Woolf as well as Joyce’s Finnegans Wake:

What carries the reader forward is not plot, basically–though the novel may contain, in disguised form, a sequence of causally related events–but some form of rhythmic repetition: a key image or cluster of images . . . ; a key event or group of events, to which the writer returns repeatedly, then leaves for material that increasingly deepens and redefines the meaning of the event of events; or some central idea or cluster of ideas. The form lends itself to psychological narrative, imitating the play of the wandering or dreaming mind (especially the mind troubled by one or more traumatic experiences); and most practitioners of this form of the novel create works with a marked dream-like quality. (185)

But as I read these books and articles on plot, it seems like the authors present an either/or choice: (a) either a novel is nonlinear (lyrical, juxtapositional, modular, quilt-like, etc.); or (b) it’s linear, that is, a “sequence of causally related events,” and therefore follows the rising-action model.

Here’s my question: can we expand Option B? Can we draw lines that move in other ways? If the traditional linear plot pattern imitates the male sexual experience, what are some alternatives?

One pattern that springs to mind is a sharply falling line: the climax is at the beginning, and the rest of the novel is spent exploring why the crisis event happened the way it did (Eva’s Man by Gayl Jones; Toni Morrison’s Paradise). How about others? Multiple climaxes? Long plateaus of intensity? Leisurely playfulness with no climax at all? Surely we can draw these lines, write these stories. Maybe they already exist, but we as readers/critics simply don’t see them that way. Maybe we as writers aren’t writing them because we haven’t thought they were possible.

The Plot Thickens

The other troubling aspect of plot, as it’s discussed in popular books on writing, is the focus on conflict as the driving force of a story. In the rising action/climax/denouement model, conflict is what makes the action rise. If you’re writing a story and you feel it isn’t going anywhere or nothing’s happening, throw in some conflict–an obstacle, a complication, an enemy–and hey presto, you’re on your way to the rising action and, you hope, a rousing good climax.

“Modernist manuals of writing,” notes Ursula K. Le Guin, “often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. . . . Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing” (Steering the Craft, 146).

Janet Burroway, whose excellent book Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft is now in its eighth edition and is often required reading for creative writing students, calls conflict a “fundamental element of fiction” (8th ed., 249). Burroway’s aesthetic tends to reflect the consensus among authors of popular books and articles on writing, and she is articulate, persuasive, and careful. Here she waxes eloquent on the dramatic potential of conflict (and rising action) for the fiction writer:

Just as a minor “police action” may gradually escalate into a holocaust, story form follows its most natural order of “complications” when each battle is bigger than the last. It begins with a ground skirmish. . . . Then one side brings in spies, and the other, guerrillas. . . . So one side brings in the air force, and the other answers with antiaircraft. . . . [She continues the metaphor, with missiles, rockets, poison gas, nuclear weapons.] The crisis action is the last battle and makes the outcome inevitable; there can no longer be any doubt who wins. (252-53; italics in original)

It’s useful to keep in mind the distinction between the rising-action model and the conflict-centered model, but the truth is they’re often conflated, as we see in the preceding quote. And that’s interesting in itself. Either Pat Benatar is right that love is a battlefield, or else war is erotic, take your pick. Maybe both.

Rewriting the Script

Burroway does offer some alternatives to the “all-the-world’s-a-battle” model of plot construction. Some authors, she acknowledges, “object to the description of narrative as a war or power struggle. Seeing the world in terms of conflict and crisis . . . not only constricts the possibilities of literature, they argue, but also promulgates an aggressive and antagonistic view of our own lives” (255). Besides discussing Le Guin’s critique of the “gladiatorial view of fiction” (255), Burroway cites the dramatist Claudia Johnson: “narrative is also driven by a pattern of connection and disconnection between characters that is the main source of its emotional effect” (255). What’s most interesting is that in earlier editions Burroway had suggested two additional alternatives to the conflict model. The first of these was to see “the shape of the story . . . in terms of situation-action-situation” (3rd ed., 43). The second is even more fascinating:

some critics of recent years have posited birth as an alternative metaphor. . . . Birth presents us with an alternative model in which there is a desired result, drama, struggle, and outcome. But it also represents a process in which the struggle, one toward life and growth, is natural. There is no enemy. The “resolution” suggests continuance rather than finality. It is persuasively argued that the story as power struggle offers a patriarchal view of the world, and that it would improve both stories and world if we would envision human beings as engaged in a struggle toward light. (43)

Birth as a plot structure is a breathtaking idea. We might say that “Someone is born” subsumes the two “classic” plot lines “Someone goes on a journey” and “A stranger comes to town.” And since the point of this discussion is to expand the possible stories, we can start with “Someone is born” and keep going. Someone dances, someone dreams. Someone weaves a web, pieces a quilt. Someone has multiorgasmic sex.

The Morning After

I’m sure most people enjoy a good Freitag triangle now and then. What’s not to like about build-up, release, turn over and fall asleep?

As I see it, the problem arises when we identify plot solely with the conflict-centered, rising-action model. A writer invested in that model won’t recognize other kinds of plots. If she’s a student in a creative writing program, or if she’s an editor or a teacher of creative writing, she may try to impose her own understanding of “plot” on less conventional writers. Even worse, she may impose a sort of self-censorship and distort her own art to fit the perceived mold.

We face two challenges, then: to picture linear plots that aren’t rising-action, and to conceptualize stories that aren’t based on conflict. To dream the impossible dream.

Was It Good for You?: A Feminist Reflection on the Pleasures of Plot

Now Please Do Your Janeway Impression: Conversation With Poets and Illustrators Emily Pettit and Bianca Stone

HER KIND: It’s so great to have you ladies here . . .your artwork too, which adds another element and dimension to the conversation. To you get you started, let’s take a quote from Georgia O’Keeffe who believes that “ . . .there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore.” Does this statement resonate with you as a writer? If so, what in particular?



Emily Pettit: It resonates with me. I believe in exploration. I believe in curiosity. I believe in discovery. I believe that “woman” could be replaced with any particular and that the statement would remain true. There are things about ourselves that only we as individuals can explore about ourselves. A cat can discover things about its tail, male or female, in a way that only a cat can explore a cat’s own tail or tale. I believe in exploration. I am not particularly interested in analyzing the limitations of exploration, as I believe doing so works more towards impeding discovery than engaging with it.

One female explorer I admire enormously is Captain Janeway of the Starship USS Voyager. Bianca, I thank you for pointing me in the direction of Voyager. Now please do your Janeway impression!


Captain Janeway and the power of COFFEE!


Bianca Stone: Perfect! When I first read the O’Keeffe quote I couldn’t stop going back to the word “unexplored.” Clearly this is a keyword for Captain Janeway of the starship Voyager. What’s so exciting about Star Trek is that it’s such a positive vision of the future, where often in sci-fi we have to deal with such negative inevitabilities for the human race. With Star Trek we have evolved into a people filled with genuine curiosity and deeper understanding of living (everyone in the military is a scientist!). It’s actually quite radical. I was taken with Star Trek: The Next Generation right away, but when I started watching Voyager (third incarnation since the original) I was completely blown away by the female captain character. It was so exciting for me to have that element in the show (especially since in the First Generation, Kirk is such an overtly masculine James Bond) of the female explorer. This is, I think, a good way to enter into this discussion because I agree with the quote figuratively and literally. There are certain things that cannot be explored character-wise with a man in the same way as they do with Janeway. In writing it’s similar. Now that I think about it, ironically, the episodes were probably written largely by men. But I think the point is that the female captain allowed something that I couldn’t get with the constant male captain character, and it interested me much more than anything else on Voyager.

I liked so much how you said “I am not particularly interested in analyzing the limits of exploration,” as I think this quote gives us pause to think about what it means to investigate, as women, this enigmatic material within. Do you think that’s something we’re always doing in our writing and art? Or is that something we have to consciously strive for?


EP: I think it’s occasionally something that must be consciously strived for. I think it is a constantly occurring reaction to living, to investigate the enigmatic. Engagement with it is not a choice. I think, I hope, I am investigating the enigmatic material attached to women, to men, to more than those two ideas.


BS: I was just reading about an inscription on one of Giorgio de Chirico’s early self-portraits: “What shall I love if not the enigma?” Truly investigating, we come upon something so important to our work that I think inevitably has to do with Woman. We come upon it, open it, unravel it, paint it, write it, turn it over and inside out—but it also remains entirely enigmatic. It is perhaps because it remains enigmatic that we cannot stop investigating, thus continuing to create and push ourselves further.

This reminds me . . . remember when I drew an Enigma Machine in your study? I was looking at your awesome spy book.


EP: The Ultimate Spy Book!


(concealed cameras continued)


I am not a good spy or detective it would seem. I know that Georgia O’Keeffe said “ . . . there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore,” in a letter to her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan, and that the context for the statement was regarding what O’Keeffe might want people to say about her after she died . . ..


BS: “Bess stepped back and looked at Nancy admiringly. ‘Your hunches are so often right it startles me.’ ”

Let us reiterate: I think we’ll never stop “stopping investigating.” As one brilliant young detective once shot back when asked just how the hell she got in:

“I came in at the entrance,” Nancy replied. “The larkspur is beautiful.”



The Whispering Shadow


BS: I wanted to actually end with something that I was just reading that seemed wildly appropriate. In Alison Bechdel’s new graphic novel memoir Are You My Mother? she writes about an essay in which Adrienne Rich cites Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, (which I’m addressing here, so it’s so layered with exactly the kind of investigation we’ve been discussing). Bechdel writes: “The essay in which Rich cites A Room of One’s Own covers some of the same ground as Woolf’s book. Like, for example, the woman writer’s particular challenge to cease being an object and start being a subject.” Bechdel then has a passage from the essay in question that says: “She meets the image of Women in books written by men. She finds a terror and a dream, she finds a beautiful pale face, she finds La Belle Dame Sans Merci, she finds Juliet or Tess or Salome, but precisely what she does not find is that absorbed, drudging, puzzled, sometimes inspired creature, herself, who sits at a desk trying to put words together.”




Emily Pettit is the author of Goat in the Snow and two chapbooks: How and What Happened to Limbo. She is an editor for notnostrums and Factory Hollow Press, as well as the publisher of jubilat. She teaches at Flying Object and Elms College.


Bianca Stone is the author of several poetry chapbooks, including I Want To Open The Mouth God Gave You Beautiful Mutant and I Saw The Devil With HIs Needlework. She is also illustrator of Antigonick, a collaboration with Anne Carson. Her poems have appeared in such magazines as Crazyhorse, Best American Poetry 2011, and Tin House. She lives in Brooklyn.


Now Please Do Your Janeway Impression: Conversation With Poets and Illustrators Emily Pettit and Bianca Stone

Magic Mike’s Pelvis Made Me Think of Literary Events

by Adriana Páramo

Last month I went to watch Magic Mike with two female friends and their girlfriends. The show, a week after its premiere, was sold out. The theater was packed. I was excited to be out of the house, away from my computer, but was more excited about being surrounded by women. And this bunch at the theater seemed to have their circadian rhythms fully synched.

When Mathew McConaughey graced us with those impish dimples of his, a set of chiseled abs, oozing jazzy erotic energy, the whole theater exploded in mmm-mmm-mmms of approval. And when he joked that by law no woman is allowed to touch a male stripper neither up here nor down there, but that he presumed that his audience was full of lawbreakers; many hell yeahs and damn rights were heard in the theater.

We didn’t get the full monty, a fact that seemed to disappoint no one because director Steven Soderbergh offered something better: Channing Tatum’s grinding crotch, hip-pumping studs in bare-assed chaps, trench-crawling soldiers, threesomes, and male strippers with tender hearts (which makes them immensely sympathetic), thus allowing the audience to choose their own fantasy. Soderbergh also quite shrewdly offered women viewers accustomed to seeing female strippers exploited both in movies and real life a subtle equalizer: a kind of get-even-feel-good layer by making the owner of the club, a drawling man named Dallas, a father figure, a trainer, a dreamer, and a heartless businessman with a shady agenda that reveals the unthinkable: men exploiting men. Men are also victims of sexual exploitation. Who knew?

Although I, a frustrated dancer, thoroughly enjoyed the high-energy choreographies, Tatum, a guy slightly older than my own daughter, didn’t get a sigh out of me. Sorry, young men just don’t get my engine going however prime beefcake they might be. I was more enthralled by what his thrusting pelvis did to the audience than by its raunchy gyrations. There were large groups of women, mostly middle-aged broads, girlfriends and sisters. In front of us sat a babysitterless bunch with three kids. Three kids! When Dallas introduced Magic Mike, a woman in the back shouted, “I want your baby!” and the theater rocked with laughter. Now, that’s titillating.

I’m a solitary woman by nature, which means, I’m a solitary writer. I write in the basement of my house where my only companion is Honey, our dog. And I write compulsively, in long stretches of time which are interrupted only by trips to the store to buy dog food or to the gym. I live in a semirural area in Central Florida, far away from any intellectual hub. My physical and academic isolation (I have very few writer friends with whom I never mingle socially and whose friendship consists mainly of exchanges and critiques of our writing) pose a fundamental challenge for LOL, Life Out Loud, a reading series of nonfiction which I co-founded and produce. The intention of the series is to offer local writers a space to share their personal stories; a kind of safe heaven where people can openly read diary entries, make confessions, share memories, etc. Since LOL’s inception it was implicitly decided that my co-founder and friend, Jaquira, would be in charge of anything public: contacting venue owners, alerting her students of our calls for submissions, inviting anyone with a pulse to our readings and MC’ing the events.  I work best behind the curtains.

We usually have a decent flow of unpolished submissions and a timid trickle of well-written stories. From the latter, we choose, edit, polish and make the pieces fit for a live audience. We rehearse them, and then we pray that people actually show up to the readings. On average, approximately 40 people have consistently attended our events. Out of those 40 people only a handful are genuinely interested in anything literary; most of them go for the booze and the food and because there is no game on that day or a country music concert or because their shopping trip got cancelled or because their boat is broken and couldn’t go fishing or because I’m their neighbor writer and they go to support whatever the hell I do. What is it that you write again? You are so lucky you don’t have to work. Don’t you get bored playing on the computer all day long?

Most of the attendees are women, I don’t know why. Maybe women are more receptive (and also more judgmental) to people’s personal stories, or maybe this is because the few people I’m close to are women. Also perhaps because I write with women in mind and about women’s issues. In any case, at the readings each writer takes a leap of faith by sharing an intimate moment with a crowd of strangers with personal quirks. Once, one writer read a gorgeous piece about drugs, sex and a toxic relationship that ended in an involuntary abortion, and a group of women attendees exploded in a fit of giggles. One of them had spotted a man in tight leather pants and the whole group was caught up in a high-school moment of mischief. They pointed their cameras at his zipper, snapped pictures of this well-endowed attendee and nudged each other while the writer offered her heart to the audience. They missed the best story of the night.

At another event, one of the women and her boyfriend engaged in such heavy petting in one corner of the venue, that after the make-out session, her companion took a nap doubled over the bar in exhaustion. At the last event, one of my guests fell asleep while I read my piece.  Producing a literary series in a nonliterary world is heartbreaking and frustrating; yet it is incredibly rewarding when it works, when the guests come at the end of the reading to hug the readers, to say thank you, congratulations, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Then everything makes sense.

In the darkness of the movie theater, I realized that this collective excitement represented, in a nutshell, the kind of enthusiasm I want to generate at LOL’s readings. Would it not be wonderful to be able to move in unison 200 hundred hungry-for-literature women? Would it not be fantastic to have them interject little hell yeahs and damn rights while one of the LOL writers reads a personal story about her childhood, or cheating on a jerkish boyfriend, or raising a difficult child, or hiding vibrators in her van, or gorgifying for profit the ass-broken-shit she finds at local yard sales? Would it not be something to see them queue up outside our reading venues the way they did for Magic Mike, giggling with expectation, ready to free-fall blindly into somebody else’s abyss, open-hearted and accepting, feeling that there was no other place they’d rather be even while hauling three kids?

While the credits ran, Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” played in the background. Women my age, with adult children and grandchildren at home, grabbed air microphones and sang along, eyes closed shut, swaying heads, left then right; it was high school and sweet hearts all over again. I liked the sight. I liked being there to bear witness to that universal truth that we all want to be young again, at least once in a life time, make out under a tree, let Johnny boy feel us up under the skirt and if Johnny happens to be buns-of-steel Channing Tatum, so be it. A fantasy is a fantasy.

But who was I kidding? It was a movie for goodness’ sake, five half-naked formidably built studs oozing testosterone, shaking their buns and thrusting their assets into women’s faces. Of course it is easy to lose oneself in the illusion, of course it is natural to let go and shout raunchy interjections at two-dimensional characters (although one of my friends is starting a petition for the release of Magic Mike in 3-D). But it is all a charade: Dallas is not a good man, the Kid is not a good friend, and Magic Mike is not a stripper at heart; he builds custom furniture. That’s where he is at his most authentic. Just I like I want LOL to be. I don’t really want horny women at the readings, moaning and licking their lips, crossing their legs tight while wriggling in their chairs. I want to remain true to what I do. What I want is a crowd of open hearts, a loving bunch of men and women who flock to our literary events because they recognize themselves in other peoples’ falls and triumphs, because it’s safe to let their inner voyeurs out of the closet, because they are willing to take a journey with a stranger. What I really want is a crowd coming to our readings hungry for life and leaving the venue shining with the humanity they borrowed from other people’s lives.

Magic Mike’s Pelvis Made Me Think of Literary Events

Lady in the House Questions: Anastacia Tolbert

What has been your ultimate journey?

my ultimate journey is not at a linear journey. not like a: super cool neat mathematical equation where all sides balance ending in numerical epiphany kind of journey. my journey is not a perfectly folded floral sheet with experienced hands nor a happy ending love song riddled with couplets. not like circle yes or no if you like me. not like any of those things.

my journey is happening as i type.  as i remind myself to breathe. my journey is not about endings but a woodland of beginnings, ah-ha/oh no/yes yes moments, recollections and conjuring’s. along the way benchmarks flashing neon purple reminding me to do and undo. my ultimate journey—happening now, in real time, in real breath is about allowing myself to ride shotgun with this lifetime’s version of my complete self. who that goddess/woman/warrior/unicorn/peace fighter/writer is (or is not) is an embryonic elder.

if the organization police arrested me and told me to sticky note arrange my journey as it has been for the last 40 years, i would say that the last half has been the most challenging  and the third eye opening. living in japan for the last year and moving back to seattle just over a month ago (a tremendous amount of life can happen in 365 days) has made me feel born again. not like religiosity born again. not like go off into the woods and come back a perfect creature born again. not like newborn baby. more like—lotus. lotus in a pair of jeans and tank top. lotus writing.

i am not afraid to skip away from the me i loved. i’m not afraid to carry sections of her and amalgam her up with the newness of myself. with the parts i boarded up in an abandoned vagina.  my. self.  free gyrl.  my journey is also about meeting other sheros along the way who have been infected with a disease called, who me? you mean me? you mean i’m amazing?   you mean i didn’t lose my wings? and share a mirror. a hug. a talking too. a listen. a booty bump. a manuscript swap.

my ultimate journey…the one that is ever evolving and whooshing itself around is also about going on a scavenger hunt for pieces of my big picture life collage that have been systematically discarded or shoved in a coat closet and proactively deciding if those pieces need to join me or if i can leave them peacefully in a blue jean notebook, a refurbished recycle bin or a salted margarita glass.

nope. this journey is not linear or square or elbows off the table.



me + japan= a years’ worth of life lessons

a few life lessons/experiences

(1)  i am a spoiled brat sometimes. i missed my “space,” but i didn’t really need all the space i missed. i wanted a big house, big bathroom & wide roads but i didn’t need any of that. i learned about internal space. filling my lungs with space. filling my heart with space. filling my eyes with space. filling the page with space.
(2)  it’s very hard to be your total self or to overcome trust issues when language barrier is bullying you. i was ready to trek japan & all it had to offer except in the beginning i didn’t speak one ounce of the language and if you can’t ask where to pee, what you are eating or when the train stops running your ____________.
(3)  i am a very affectionate person. i’m a lifelong hug practitioner. japan wasn’t very accepting of my hug practice. this at first was a great blow to my arms, heart, and chest. but living there i grew to understand that affection/love/honor/respect & even hello can take on many forms just as heartfelt as a hug. i packed my hugs away for a bit & became deeply involved in being a better listener, observer, writer & bower. i also came back with a greater appreciation for below the surface hugs & distaste for phony/let’s do lunch but not really hugs.

excerpt from a conversation with a lovely, amazing japanese woman about hugging:

me: i rarely see people hugging here. but i haven’t been everywhere so…
lovely woman: well, when i visit the states i see everyone hugging and think to myself why strangers would want to exchange full on/body to body contact with no prior knowledge of each other? weird. but i did not go to every state in the united states, just nyc, la, and idaho.
me: hm. good point.  but it is always wonderful to greet people you love with a hug or  sometimes, not all the time but sometimes two strangers can indeed connect through a hug even without prior knowing each other—anything.
lovely woman– (silence)
me: (reaching out to hug)
lovely woman–  (kind of receiving hug)
me: (nervously backing away)
lovely woman: (laughing)
me: (laughing)
me: okay that was awkward.
lovely woman: yes it was.

after we chatted it up i hugged her goodbye and she bowed back. it was perfect.

(4)  you think you have read all there is to know about a place until you get there and you find out a. all of it was true no matter how ridiculous it sounds or b. all of it was bullshit no matter how ridiculous it sounds.
(5)  sleep is indeed a luxury. i learned how to treat it as such, getting it in ways or in places i never thought i would.
(6)  it is actually a good idea not to walk around with food and drink in hand—and yes, it makes malls, streets, and bathrooms look a whole lot cleaner. did i want to order my latte and traipse around the mall? yes. did i? yes.
(7)  remember when your grandparents told you pointing was rude? use an open palm.
(8)  i learned that i am picky about food even though i claimed i wasn’t. sometimes i didn’t know what i was eating and sometimes it was labeled and i wish it wasn’t. i can’t say for sure if i really wanted to know i was eating_________________ before i ate it. after…not so bad.
(9)  i suppose i am not a bathroom care-er, as in, i never cared who heard me pee, i mean that’s what i do in the bathroom  number one or number two. i was amazed that in many bathrooms music was attached to the toilet to accompany your peeing or pooping and a lovely fragrance spray for afterwards …as well as many liquid spritzers for your vaginal and anal sanitation. in the end, i’m just an old fashioned toilet squatter who never cared if the next door stall heard what i was doing. get in. take care of business. get out.
(10)  elders are important. i know that going and i came back with an even greater appreciation for them. i understand more clearly how valuable they are. japanese culture helped me take that thinking to a higher level.
(11)  saying bless you after a sneeze is not done in japan. it was a hard habit to break but as i researched the history of “bless you…” it wasn’t a hard habit to break any longer. (yall will have to forgive me if i don’t say it anymore.)


How do you start? How do you end?

inhale. i give thanks. exhale. i remind myself not to remind myself about my visible and invisible imperfections—this is followed by doing a kindergarten teacher “quiet coyote” sign to the negative chatter in my head/in the media/on my street/in my mirror/ and in my_________________. inhale. i follow this ritual with an attempted baritone hum/om/whisper and clearing my throat. (sometimes there are words, stanzas or thoughts left over from the day before.) exhale. i end by giving thanks that in this lifetime i get to be this particular me. i end with me standing naked and letting all my body parts know how much they mean to me and how beautiful they are. this is followed by doing a kindergarten teacher “quiet coyote” sign to the negative chatter in my head/in the media/on my street/in my mirror/ and in my_________________. exhale. i end with a colossal white candle and an ancestor role call. (sometimes between the how do i start and how do i end, i tell cancer, poverty, relationship ptsd, fear, white privilege, pillaged villages, isms, heartache, and hymen hijackers to kiss my ass. please.) inhale. i begin again but this time writing. at first free range thoughts running around like chickens. then unborn thoughts like__________ or ____________. then some kind of shape/form/text/p  o   e   m. exhale.


Do you worry about the politics of classification? How do you classify yourself?

once upon a time i did. i forehead line worried because i knew i didn’t really fit inside one box but i didn’t want to unfit in a box either. i believed the box i fit in accompanied the owner’s manual attached to my belly button. i thought that if i fit into a box/category/group/roman numeral iii in an outline, that it would be fine as long as the box was all these different things. in the last five years i have realized there’s no need for a box fitting and in the last year i’ve realized i can’t worry about those on the edge of the box beckoning me to come in or those  who speak black sharpie forbidding me to enter. the politics of classification is always around in the way somebody doing lawn work is a steady presence just when i settle into a poem or a new character. the politics of classification is perpetual background disruption be it a whine or shrill. presently i am in a state of allowing myself to be declassified and unclassified. i classify myself as a free womyn embracing change (some days with open arms and some days with twisted lips and major attitude), self- love, words, sexual awareness, vulnerability, ocean talk, divine counsel, proactive activism, less plan, plan “see,” and more do, do, do.


When do you knock a wall down? When do you leave a wall intact? 

i knock a wall down when i can’t breathe. unfortunately that might mean i am suffocating from myself. it might mean i am the wall and the one knocking down the wall—which can make me tired as __________.  i knock a wall down when the wall hurts. when the wall threatens to hijack my body, spirit, divine wisdom, healthy future or love. i leave a wall intact when i’m not sure what to do yet. i leave a wall intact when there’s a message graffitied on it like you are on the right path or if the wall is asking me to move forward without fear. i leave a wall intact (but kick it) when i know i have to finish a manuscript not because it needs to be published necessarily but because the words have to be out into the world.


Lady in the House Questions: Anastacia Tolbert

Generation Basement: Exploring a Room of One’s Own

by Elizabeth Searle

Our niece lived in our basement for years. First because she was in college and later because she was paying off or trying to pay off her massive student loans. Virginia Woolf famously said that what a woman needs to write is “a room of one’s own and 500 a year.” Both of these necessities are harder than ever to come by for the new generation of women, eager to launch their literary explorations yet mired in debt and stuck in family basements.

Generation Basement: that’s my nominee as a name for our own Lost Generation. I have heard them dubbed “Generation Cupcake,” “Generation Facebook” or “Generation Twilight,” according to author Libby Cudmore on my own blog.

Whatever we call them, many recent college graduates like my smart and talented niece, have found themselves becoming a new ‘indentured servant’ class. Of course, many less educated women are in much more dire straits. My novel GIRL HELD IN HOME was inspired by the real-life story of a young woman truly being “held” as an unpaid servant by a wealthy family who convinced her they controlled her visa. While college-educated women have more options, they too can find themselves trapped.

How can young women looking to explore a career in literature or any other profession make their way without reasonable hope of finding “500 a year” when their loans alone cost them $500-plus a month?

Recently on HER KIND, Raquel Goodison wrote movingly of her struggles— despite advanced degrees– to simply find an affordable apartment. Her plight reminded me of my niece, who holed up in our carpeted but cave-like basement throughout her college days and beyond, serving as a sitter and ‘big sister’ to our young son. We were happy to have her in our home. But we’ve been sad to see how she’s struggled for financial stability after working hard for her degree and graduating college.

As a Woody Allen character warns in the futuristic spoof Sleeper, maybe all the things our parents told us were good for us have turned out not to be: “milk, eggs, college.’

My husband and I remember our own ‘salad days’ when our young grad-student marriage was launched in a single room studio apartment we nicknamed “Sky Lab.” Living on the edge in New Haven, CT (a city without pity that we nicknamed “No Haven”), we at times had to sell boxes of our precious books to have money for groceries. Our travails were typical for students of our era, but there was light at the ends of our tunnels. Once we got our degrees, we got jobs and paychecks. We explored the country a bit, taking trips to Florida and San Francisco and beyond. We began the slow climb toward settling into a house of our own.

Not so for our niece. Lately, she and various family members have been relentlessly harassed by threatening calls from the loan organization as well as by emails explaining that we are not being “harassed” and defining “harassment” versus “due diligence.”  True, students could have made wiser decisions instead of being sucked in by predatory loan groups, making it all sound as easy as signing on for another credit card.

My son wonders why his cousin should be allowed to sink in debt when Wall Street barons receive government bail-outs to cover their own bad decisions. A hopeful note for the future is that savvy teens like my radically-left son are growing up with a deep distrust for the big financial organizations that rule our country. My 13-year-old son has already attended “Make Wall Street Pay” and “Occupy” rallies as well as fundraisers for our state’s bold Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has Wall Street’s number and, if elected, has a real chance of rewriting the rules for the next generation.

When our niece first moved into our basement, she tackled the overgrown bushes of our back yard with shears to give her basement windows more light. I remember admiring her work and seeing the enthusiastically chopped down branches piled outside her little windows, forming a pattern like a net. Luckily, our niece did have a ‘safety net’ to land in and a place to form her temporary nest. These days she, like so many, is caught in a wide net not of her own making.

Is it any wonder that rather than exploring the world in their twenties, Generation Basement tends to turn inward, “exploring” Facebook and the worldwide web as they seek escape from their webs of debt?

How can this Lost Generation make their own explorations and own marks when they can’t afford that elusive “room of one’s own”?

Generation Basement: Exploring a Room of One’s Own

Nobody Needs Another Mad Woman in the Attic: A Conversation with Lidia Yuknavitch and Vanessa Veselka

HER KIND: Ladies, Welcome to the Conversation. Let’s get the ball rolling with Georgia O’Keeffe. She once said that “there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore.” Does this statement resonate with you as a writer? If so, what in particular?



LIDIA YUKNAVITCH: Yep, I’m down with that idea. It’s also one echoed by Anaïs Nin, Virginia Woolf, H.D., Kathy Acker, Louise Bourgeois, Hélène Cixous, and Marguerite Duras, among others. I do understand there may be a little bit of a Second/Third Wave Feminism divide on questions like this. I’ve noticed women and men in my age group (meaning 40-50) feel more okay about agreeing to this idea than younger women and men, whom seem to feel that it smacks of essentialism. That is, if I understand their objections correctly.

But from my point of view, and I’m not shy about saying this LOUDLY, I think some art, books, music, film, could ONLY be made by women.  The exploration, discovery and questions that a woman has, as well as the processes by which she makes art, from my point of view are fundamentally different than non-women modes— with the possible exception of Walt Whitman. Ha.

If we put the question of “essentialism” aside for a moment and just talk about being practicing women artists, I know that the kinds of aesthetic questions I’m interested in and the kinds of characters I create and the kinds of strategies I employ in writing have at their center what used to be called “women’s ways of knowing.” That phrase lost its hipness value over time, but it doesn’t change the importance of the idea.

Another way to look at the question, and one that I take delight in is to ask: Could a man or anything not a woman have written The Lover?  Or Frankenstein?  Or Empire of the Senseless?  Or Zazen?  My answer is a big fat no.  And those books I listed all have gigantoid HUMANIST plots and questions – not just confessional or pigeonholed “womeny” issues.

The exciting part to me personally about [O’Keefe’s] quote though is not the debate that shoots out of it (and by the way, I’m glad we don’t all AGREE on these topics. how dull and static that would be)… The exciting part is the process of making art— of entering the space and motion of making art as a woman, with my full corporeal truth, not only part of it.  I tried to write about that “journey” in an essay called “On Being a Woman Writer.”  It’s a real place we go. And we go differently.

Yes, I know many, many, many women writers whom would not agree with that.

When I read Vanessa’s work I don’t think her characters experiences are EXCLUSIVE to women, but I do glory in the wide expanse of her female characters’ traits and experiences. For instance, Della in Zazen is thrilling to me because she is full. Real. Embodied. She is not a wimpy half woman character that sits still and behaves locked in the clean and proper body. That’s why I love her. She’s us.


VANESSA VESELKA: I agree with much of what Lidia said but feel like the idea of female territory quickly becomes too much of a separate sphere. While there are books that could only have been written by a woman, we can also say that there are books that could have only been written by Marguerite Duras with her particular set of experiences, aesthetic sensibilities, sentence rhythms, etc. I think it’s an issue of scale.

The more particular the art, the smaller the egg from which it hatches. So if we see these things as circles within circles, WOMAN is a big damn circle, and if you don’t have that in your canon, you are (we are) missing a huge range of work to describe the human experience.

I do worry about essentialism at the community level, though. I worry that “women’s writing,’ like “literary fiction” is fast becoming a genre, at least at the funding level. Women writing about rape and going back to school after marriage and learning to find themselves within a relationship or to accept life’s challenges through heroic feats of internal growth–these kinds of stories seem to get funded through grants, awards, fellowships while other work by women less so. We seem to have an anxiety about moving away from the more simplistic resistance narratives we inherited. My problem is that each one of these storylines, the rape, the bad marriage, the navigation of a male dominated academic field, they all have too much to do with men. They are the stories left behind by the male experience. And they are important, but I want stories where men may or may not have any critical role to play at all. I want more human.

Trans-literature is raising some really glorious questions about what it is to be a woman, and that will certainly add more breadth, but that too can slip into a more retro-essentialism. I am a women because I like heels and lipstick. I am how I present/ perform. I am how others see me. Personally, I don’t feel like my gender shifts when I where overalls, which I do quite a bit. So if I were Goddess, I would say that while we need those stories that can only be told by women, we also need to let what “woman” is become more nuanced. The specificity is where I believe we’ll find the gold. Not just stories that can only be written by women, but stories that could only be written by this one, particular woman. Frankenstein couldn’t just be written by a woman, or even by a woman on the edge of The Enlightenment with anxiety about transgressing on God. It had to be written by Mary Shelley, daughter of Wolstoncraft, orphan, teen lover, goth.


LY: Yes, that’s the essentialism concern…but I also worry about how much energy and cartwheeling in language we have to do to NOT call women’s writing writing by women…that begins to be silly to me…I think there is an equal danger in erasing gender in discussions of great art and literature that truly itches me.


VV: Yes, you’re right. And it’s easy in a highly nuanced conversation to get contrarian because you’re trying to fine tune a point when the real point (misogyny, patriarchy) is so large that minor calibrations are more like hobbies than real changes to discourse. Regarding the pavilion of Women’s Writing, I feel the need to quote the immortal Dan Aykroyd: “It’s desert wax and a floor topping; it’s a red tent and a banishment.”

But it’s probably more of a red tent.

Still, I wish there was more variety at the level of funding and publication in journals and grants earmarked for women.  Sometimes it seems like only our victim stories are welcome. And Lidia, as you know from early reactions around Dora, people are often uncomfortable with violent or aggressive complexity in women narrators, and many of those ‘people’ are women.

But back to Duras, Shelley, and the many others. They don’t just voice different experience; they radically alter “men’s writing,” I.e. the dominant tradition because they usher in unease, almost a sexual ‘uncanny’ to the forms that were missing.

And I do not believe in erasing gender or that it is simple performative. I think we on the west coast are living in a time and place of privilege where those explorations can flourish— and hooray for that— but it is not a privilege enjoyed around the world or even in 99% of this country.


LY: By the way: my definition of “woman” is Vanessa in overalls absolutely…as well as any person who inhabits that wide and wonderful and contradictory territory, with heels, balls, you name it.


VV:  I love that! Does that make me a psychological pin-up?

You hit it on the head with “contradictory territory.” I think I’m just arguing for more contradiction and less propaganda. Propaganda in the sense that when we are afraid to write freely, to present complexity because we are afraid that  “they” will find an ideological or experiential weakness in our female characters and take away birth control or health care or change rape laws–we are buying in to a legal standard humanity. One flaw in the argument kills the argument. One contradiction in the woman kills the her credibility. We can’t write for credible. And nobody needs another madwoman in the attic. We have to write our way into new vibrancy.
AND I will forever have a soft spot for the straight up no apologies hardline woman identified feminist. It’s the core of what inspires me and I think the great dilemma of 3rd Wave discourse was summed up aptly by Bitch Co-Founder Lisa Jervis when she said: “I have seen the best minds of my generation ogling shoes.”

Nothing against shoes.


LY: Precisely. Preferably wearing overalls…

This “new vibrancy” OUGHT to have all our drives and intensities and contradictions and pleasures and conflicts and violences UP FRONT. One of the reasons I champion your work is that you do that. Without apology. And without slipping into confessional fuzz or caretaker goo.


VV: You’re such a sweet talker, and you know I love your work as well.


LY: Part of the problem is when we refer to women’s writing AS women’s writing, it gets too quickly and easily marginalized by the market and the literary hierarch— both forces of patriarchy and capitalism. That’s bad. Boo. And yet, if we let GO of the power to be self-referential, to say, for instance, “I am a woman writer,” then we leave the terms open to discourse of market and literary establishment—  both forces of patriarchy and capitalism. That’s boo too.

Since I believe there are actual artistic and writing practices that are woman-born, which I write about all the time, I’m searching for a space of identity, articulation, and practice where I can say “I am a woman writer” — where than act of enunciation can carry voice and body and art weight— and NOT be subsumed by marginalizations or too-easy essentialisms.

Maybe it’s in the phrasing, Vanessa?  “I am a woman writer god damn it loudly without apology in overalls and sometimes lipstick and when I yell or cry or fuck or eat or drink it motherfucking COUNTS. So pay attention while I teach you how to read.”

And another thing: a question, really. Vanessa, given everything we’ve said so far, how can we talk about being women writers and not be subsumed by the various nefarious traps we’ve detailed?

ONE of my answers to that question has always been: write fiction. Make art. I’ve always believed fiction writing to be a radicalized space of creation–I don’t mean what the consumer or markets “do” with fiction, I mean the actual space and process of writing it. More than nonfiction (though people want to shoot me when I say that).


VV: I agree with you 100% about fiction. It is a different mental space. It’s not like a choose your own adventure, it’s more like a hologram–you plug in some basic things and it’s suddenly there in front of you in 3d, a whole world. It is derived from mystery. Period. (Now people can shoot me too). It makes sense that fiction is then, by its nature radical and that women’s fiction would be even more so.


LY: I write a lot about psychological “spaces” (so does Vanessa) and emotional spaces and corporeal spaces and imagination spaces — I do that because they are more real to me a lot of the time than what everybody else seems to think is “real life.” there are territories of being and knowing and feeling that come alive by and through art.

A concrete example that makes people worry about me I know is when I talk about the space of psychosis. when my daughter died I lost my marbles. But I didn’t die. I went away. And the place I went was real, and I write about it all the time. It’s not that different than dreamspace.  Now to be honest, I became a writer emergent from that space of grief and psychosis. Literally. I went nutbag, and I wrote. Like I couldn’t stop writing. Like Ted Kaczynski teeny writing pages and pages.

From her death, writing came into my hands. In some ways, it’s that simple.

But I DO NOT want to get trapped into the dreaded Madwoman in the Attic discussion.  I’m talking about “spaces” of extreme experience— pleasure, violence, grief, psychosis cusps – as CREATIVE places – places absolutely generative of meaning. And for women and minorities, you know, we are still encouraged to be quiet about those spaces. Clean them up. Hide them or make them pretty. I’m not for that.

I’m for amplifying the places we come from and illuminating how it is that extreme experience in relationship to language and image –  in relation to art and making – are creative and radical places to be from, to go to, to leave and return to.

Similarly, when I was a kid, I had an eating disorder called Pica. It’s when you eat non-nutritive things like dirt or paper. Trust me when I say I ate a shitload of dirt, but even more paper.

Before I learned to talk, my sister was trying to help me learn to read, so she’d put all these pieces of paper around the house with words on them to help me learn. Kind of hide-and-seek with paper words. Which is beautiful, right?

Then one day my dad came home, and he thought she’d made a big mess, so he slapped her a red blotchy one. I was so scared (I think I was 4) I hid in a closet and ate most of the pieces of paper with the words on them.

Now on the one hand, that’s a sad as shit story — scared abused girls. But on the other hand, it’s MAGNIFICENT. Look at our imaginations! How brave and cool and strong she was, how filled with delight and adventure I was! Some of the words on paper I ate were him:  architect.  It was like I was eating language, like Popeye ate spinach. Because I sure as shit emerged from that closet eventually. And I had something he did not.



Vanessa Veselka (Portland, OR) has been at various times a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a union organizer, a student of paleontology, and a mother. Her work appears in The AtlanticTin House, the FSG anthology Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, and Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll with work forthcoming in GQ and Zyzzva. Her debut novel, Zazen, is a 2011 finalist for the Ken Kesey Prize in fiction.


Lidia Yuknavitch is a writer. She wrote the memoir The Chronology of Water, and her debut novel Dora: A Headcase is forthcoming September 1, 2012.  She’s written a lot of other stuff too.


Nobody Needs Another Mad Woman in the Attic: A Conversation with Lidia Yuknavitch and Vanessa Veselka