Monthly Archives: August 2015

Summer Reading, Feels So Good


MCG with Wayward Writer hermana, Lisbeth Coiman at The Last Book Store in Los Angeles

Because I teach and grade hundreds of essays during the school year, I don’t get to read as much as I like – just the books I’m teaching, books I’ve read five to ten times or more already. Because I’ve been writing mostly memoir in the last couple of years, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs.

This summer I read four memoirs, all by women.

           I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, Shawna Kenney/1999

           Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon/2015

           How To Become a Chicana Role Model, Michele Serros/2000

           How to Grow Up, Michelle Tea/2015

Not only does it appear that I really like memoirs written by women, and books organized like how-to guides, but I also like books written by women who share my unfortunate first name.

imgres I Was a Teenage Dominatrix by Shawna Kenney made me laugh out loud several times. At only twenty-nine when she wrote it, Kenney is wonderfully self-reflective and good at punch lines. The thing that surprised me about this book is how much she included about her family, her working class background, and her determination to do everything she had in her power to do pay for college, since no one else could pay her way for her. I could have read even more about that, but I also loved her honesty about the choices she made about when to drop the dominatrix personae to just be a friend to a caller when she saw that some of these guys were just poor lonely saps with bad social skills and had only called her for the company. She even helped one guy learn to dress better and get some dates, and ultimately married. I am lucky to know Shawna personally, and I could really see her doing that.

imgres-1 Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon was practically required reading, as it was one of the books I read and wrote a brief summary of for PM Press to include with the distributor’s info, along with Violence Girl by Alice Bag, and Clothes, Music, Boys, by Viv Albertine of The Slits. Girl in a Band is well-written book, quiet and subtle in ways that I liked, but Albertine’s book was more my style, louder, brasher, and forthcoming. It’s important for me to point out here that it’s likely that I felt this way about Albertine’s memoir because she was in an all female band like I was, and because her background is similar to mine. We were both raised by single moms who were often down on their luck and money and necessities were often hard to come by. It’s not Kim Gordon’s fault that her mom was stable and that her dad was an academic with steady work and expectations that his children would go to college too. Gordon admits to being the type to keep her emotional reactions pushed down, but when she opens up in the, she is good at writing about her emotions, as a reader, you feel like super let in — I liked that.

  MicheleSerros           images  How To Become a Chicana Role Model by Michele Serros is a memoir of sorts, more a book of semi-instructional essays. In March, I read at a Michele Serros memorial reading in Highland Park. Shawna Kenney invited me, and I was honored to do it, especially since I only met Michele Serros once at a reading where she signed my copy of Chicana Falsa – a book with the best title ever. There’s a poem in that book that has a stanza strikingly similar to a poem I wrote around the same time. The stanza was about how both Serros and I did not grow up speaking Spanish because our families have lived in California for a few generations already. Michele was good at expressing the shame you feel when you can’t communicate in what most assume is your mother tongue. My favorite part of How To Become a Chicana Role Model is when Michele, who has grown tired of being asked where she’s from and not satisfying with the answer California, begins asking the same question back. “Where are you from?” She says this near the end of the essay.

      It was then I suddenly felt sorta sorry for him. It’s amazing how many white                          people don’t know anything about their own ancestry or background and so it’s                    no wonder why a lot of them confess to feeling so culturally bankrupt.


imgres-2 How To Grow Up by Michelle Tea — if you’re trying to learn to treat yourself better or break up with someone, you should read this book now. It is charming and super influenced by her roots in punk rock, spoken word communities, and recovery. It’s sort of weird that I’ve never met Michelle Tea, not because I feel I have to know every writer or every writer named Michelle, but because we have always traveled in similar circles, and we have a lot of friends in common. I  will finally meet her in October, as she’s reading at Lit Quake sponsored Zocalo Spits: Arts in the Dro event, a reading series that I host with Soma Mei Sheng Frazier.

In addition to sharing a name, Michelle Tea and I also have a similar background, but it was my mom who was the one doing all the drugs – that’s not to say that I never experimented, or made terrible choices, and it’s for those reasons that did not agree at all with Michael Shaub at NPR’s review of the book, especially this:

                 Even for slow learners, the lessons here are painfully obvious, but Tea spells                           them out anyway: Don’t date people who sell pills in bus stations. Don’t date                         people who you know in your gut are lying to you all the time, whose stories are                   so shady you start to hope they are lying to you.” Fine advice, to be sure, but it’s                   hard to imagine readers who wouldn’t consider Tea’s story and come to those                       conclusions by themselves.

Those of us who are slow learners, or for whatever reason, growing out of a state of arrested development do need IT spelled out for us. Yeah, Michael Shaub (maybe you are just super lucky, privileged and well-adjusted), the lessons are obvious, but being raised a certain way and/or living a certain way for so long makes certain behaviors so ingrained that we need lots an lots of reminders to avoid them, and these lessons are extra helpful when they come from someone we admire. In this case, for me, it was Michelle Tea.

Wayward Writers’ Magic


Every summer for the past four years, my family has packed up our little car, and sometimes a dog, and made our way to the mountains for the Wayward Writers Retreat.

It sounds a little fancy doesn’t it? For many, adding the word retreat to anything conjures images of long soaks in mineral springs, yoga, and rock mazes, but this retreat doesn’t really include any of those things, and it really only includes a little writing and one public reading. So what else do we do? Well, we drink wine and margaritas and we talk about writing, and writers, and books, our projects, the ones that are driving us crazy, and the ones we’ve finished that we’re proud of – published or not.

The first Wayward Writer’s retreat took place in 2012. It was Margaret Garcia’s idea to bring together as many writers as possible who met online in Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen – dubbed the Wayward Writers. It should have been a little nerve wracking that first year, the prospect of meeting a bunch of people in person that I had only met online. It was like a three-day long, polyamorous internet date. It could go right, but it could also go very, very wrong, and I’d be five hours from home, having subjected my whole family. The funny thing is that I never really thought of it that way at all. I only felt a bit nervous the first year meeting everyone in the seconds before found our way to Margaret’s house in Greenville, but before packing the family in the car, I hadn’t really considered any negative possibilities because I have faith in writers, especially women writers. Those of us who showed up that first year had been writing together in the Literary Kitchen for a year or more, commenting on each other’s work, getting to know one another by reading the others’ work, often memoir, and through the comments – Ariel Gore’s wise and kind style of leading, teaching, and critiquing was our guide.

I had finally found my people.     Wayward.AFG.2015

I’ve never been to any other writer’s retreat. They’ve always been too expensive, or too white, or too far away, or I didn’t want to leave my then younger child for so many days in a row unless I had to work because separations were so hard for him then.

Maybe I would have published sooner if I had gone to a retreat, but there’s no guarantee, andI hadn’t published anything yet the first year of the annual Wayward Writer’s Retreat in 2012 – none of the other Waywards had published much yet either, but they all seemed a bit more experienced and accomplished, some with chapbooks, blogs, and connections. I didn’t mind because I was working feverishly to finish my first memoir to concentrate much on publishing, plus I knew that these women would teach me a lot about where I could place my work and how to do it. One thing we all had in common was the yearning for a book deal, ideally, an agent and a book deal, but in this age of publishing we were learning agents were getting harder and harder to come by, but that there were also other routes – even self-publishing, though extra labor-intensive, was a viable and increasingly attractive potential option. I considered self-publishing my first, still unpublished memoir, Pretty Bold For a Mexican Girl: Growing up Chicana in a Hick Town, the memoir that I finished in the Literary Kitchen manuscript workshop, but then realizing that I had another memoir in me, one with a built-in audience, I focused instead on finishing, The Spitboy Rule: Tale of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band. I took the knowledge and the confidence from writing the first one and wrote another and got a publisher. I’ve published quite a bit in anthologies and literary journals too since that first Wayward Writer’s Retreat, many of which I’ve learned about from my Wayward Writer hermanas. I followed in Margaret’s footsteps and made the 2013 SF cast of Listen To Your Mother and had the great fortune, this year, of winding up in the anthology.

Now, I don’t have to go another writer’s retreat unless I want to, or until I apply and get a big scholarship for a retreat in some secluded locale with my own room and my meals prepared. Still, I know I’d miss Margaret, and Julian, and Paloma, and Diego, and Jenny, and Rebeca, Linda, and Rocky, and Lisbeth, even the others who have only made it up once, and I’d miss making two dozen tortillas by hand while my husband grills marinated steak brought from our local Mexican market, and doing things like riding a high-speed carousel in the woods. Most of all, I’d miss sitting around watching our kids play in the creek while we ponder if any of them will remain friends in the future, or joke about if they’ll need to form a kids of writers support groups.

This retreat where we camp out in Margaret’s yard and take turns cooking, checking on the children, and opening bottles of wine, I quickly learned is where a year’s worth of collective knowledge is gathered, combined, and shared. Never mind that it doesn’t come with word count promises, or cozy cottages, or fancy sponsors, or swag bags — just writers who cheer one another on, share resources and parenting stories, writers who collaborate, and writers who love to sit up with a glass of wine and talk about writing late into the night.

wayward writers 2012