Category Archives: Tributes

First and Last Confession

 

My brother in law told me that I had to go to confession. I imagined a wooden closet the size of a phone booth with a screen over the window, but I was directed to the priest’s office instead. He was sitting behind his desk and gestured for me to sit down in the empty chair. I wanted to reach up and touch my wedding pienado, the large looping bun on the top of my head, held in place with half a can of hairspray and about one hundred bobby pins, but I knew better.

            “Shit, shit, shit,” was all I could think.

What if I didn’t understand him? What if he spoke that kind of rapid fire Spanish that my college Spanish couldn’t keep up with? I had told my husband, the man that I had already been married to, by the state, for two years that I also wanted a traditional Mexican wedding.  Naively, I hadn’t quite realized that all this church stuff is what he thought I meant, when what I really meant was Mexico, his family, some birria, and Mariachis.

“How long has it been since your last confession,” the priest asked in Spanish, a phrase that I half understood and half expected.

“Um, nunca, nunca, he confesado,” I stammered not wanting to lie straight away.

“Nunca?”

I shook my head.

I was baptized as a baby, but that was it. Once my mother left my father, she left, Los Angeles, and in some ways, Mexican culture, and definitely religion, behind. I was only allowed (deemed eligible, by men, of course) to marry my husband in the Catholic Church because I had done six months of adult catechism in a progressive Catholic church in the Bay Area. Six months of Tuesday nights talking about Jesus. I wouldn’t have minded six months of talking about La Virgen de Guadalupe, but six months of talking about Catholics, and the Bible, and Jesus just made it clear why I steered clear of religion in the first place: the holy trinity of male deities, too much patriarchy, and way too much misogyny. Still I’m Mexican, a Xicana, and I was marrying a Mexican national, I figured it wouldn’t kill me to learn more about the church, the rituals, and more about the interconnectedness between Mexican culture and its predominate religion.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law, Mario, who planned the wedding, had filled the priest in on my unique situation and I had been sent to Mexico with a letter from the local diocese that assured the Mexican priest I was eligible for the sacrament of marriage once he performed my first communion and confirmation. Fast forward sacraments, each would follow the other in quick succession, the first communion; hold this candle, sip this wine, and the confirmation; please, padre, I prayed silently, please don’t drip oil on my white dress, all performed before my immediate family just before the start of the wedding ceremony itself. It was a lot of waiting before I got my mariachis, but none of it would happen until I had my first and last confession.

The priest’s office was heavy and dark. The priest furrowed his brow, unsure of what to do or say, for I’m certain he’d never been in this situation before. I sat, my hands folded in my lap on my wedding gown, watching him decide what to do, nervous that he’d expect me to recite some prayer in Spanish that I had never even said in English.

“Entonces, dime ha sido una hija obediente?”

Had I been an obedient daughter? To whom? My wife beater father who I never knew? My mind raced for a suitable answer and the right words to express them with in a language that I struggled to speak smoothly, and I decided I didn’t need to count my father.

“Si, Padre,” I said, though no one had used the word obedient to describe me since I was in the first grade. I wanted to crack with laughter, but I knew this wasn’t the time.

“Has sido una hermana buena con tus hermanos?”

“Si, Padre,” I said, even though I had told my blonde sister she was adopted, and beat up my brother when we fought until he grew taller than me.

“Muy bien,” he said, and he blessed me, presided over my first communion, confirmed me, and married me to my husband in his family’s church, which brought great joy and comfort to his family who hadn’t seen him in ten years because he wasn’t a citizen, didn’t have legal residency, and couldn’t travel back and forth. So I knelt, and I stood, and I stood, and I knelt, and squeezed my husband’s hand, and sweated in my heavy gown, and mouthed, “watermelon, watermelon, watermelon,” while everyone else recited prayers memorized from childhood. And I stared up at the towering Jesus on the cross, unable to escape his sad eyes and the irony of it all, until we busted from the church and into the arms of family, a showering of rice, and the celebratory sounds of Mariachi horns all around us.

*Previously published in Joaquin Magazine

Punk Rock Reunions

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At a recent reading I did for The Spitboy Rule, someone said that they heard that Spitboy was going to reunite to play a reunion show. I would like to state for the record, and as publicly as possible, that the likelihood of Spitboy getting back together to play a reunion show is next to none. There are a couple of different reasons that would make doing so pretty impossible.

That said, since writing The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in Female Punk Band, I have had the same or similar recurring dream. Spitboy is going to get back together to play a show, probably at Gilman, and just a couple of hours before the show I realize that I don’t remember any of the drum parts, and that some of us haven’t seen each other in like fifteen years. In the dream, I begin to panic. How will we play if we don’t even know the songs or each other, and then I wake up. When I wake up, terror is replaced with a sudden relief that it was all a dream, that I don’t have learn to play my own songs again in two hours, but then the Lookout Records Reunion show happened.

In January 2017, as a part of 924 Gilman’s 30-year anniversary activities, there will be a weekend of shows by reunited Lookout Records bands. I know that some people think that reunions are stupid and that they take away time, space, and money from current local bands, and while I sort of understand that argument, I am still super excited to announce that I will play guitar with Kamala and the Karnivores who will play one of these reunion shows. Here’s the ultimate irony. Not only did I suck at guitar when I was in the band in 1989, but I don’t even really know how to play guitar anymore, so like the dream, I have to relearn all these songs, songs that I knew how to play at one point. Thankfully, I have more than two hours to learn them.

It was Kamala who approached me about reuniting to play this show. She contacted me; I contacted Ivy, and Ivy contacted Lynda, the line-up on the Lookout Records 7, Girl Band. Ivy said, “Sounds like a fun time for some old ladies.”

Within a week we had set a time and date to have dinner to discuss how we’d approach practicing, knowing that we’d all need to relearn all the songs.

It all came together quickly that it made me think, this is why women should run the world.

Lynda who lives in LA and who has two small children, was not able to make it to the dinner, but Kamala and Ivy and I were all there with our husbands. Like punk rock, we are all well into our forties, and some of us our fifty, and being more or less cis women, we are all married with what our parents would call respectable jobs, but we’re still a bunch of weirdo music nerds, only now with grey hair and menopause.

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Since I’m a grownup now and not 19, I paid money to have my guitar worked on before our first practice, rather than asking Kent (yes, of “Ask, Kent” fame), Ivy’s husband, and one of my fave people in the world, to do it for me. I’m actually playing my son’s guitar this time around, the best guitar in the house. I took it to Broken Guitars to have it set up for me to play. I told Justin who does that work there what I needed, easy to play strings, low action on the fret board, and new strings, which he’d had to put on for me, so I could start building up some callouses as soon as possible. The next day, I went to Ivy’s house to learn some of the songs. She had hand-drawn some tabs for me, and we were both surprised that I could remember how to form most of the chords without her showing me. We had a good laugh over the fact that when I was in Kamala and the Karnivores in 1989 that she had to draw very detailed diagrams of the fret board, the notes, and chords. Learning to play guitar a bit better when I played in Hateplate with Dominique made a big difference even if I haven’t really played since 1997. My son, who is a talented jazz pianist who can sight read and all of that likes to say that I really don’t play guitar, and he’s right. I’m really a drummer, but I can still add something, even if it’s just well-placed feedback or on-point tambourine. While Ivy and I ran through the songs way faster than either of us had anticipated, I showed Ivy what I did remember about how I was playing some of the songs. Arrangements that she herself had written.

“Oh, that’s so clever. I see what we were trying to do there,” she said.

“That was your idea.” I’d remind her each time.

We laughed a lot more than we did when she used to have to teach me how to play a song she’d taught me to play that I had gone and forgotten in a few days because I had barely any grasp on it at all. When we got to the song “Bone Bouquet” and I saw that it had a dreaded F chord in it, Ivy said, “Yeah, F is totally the reason to learn bar chords.”  Then I remembered I played tambourine on that song. Phew!

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On August 28, with Frank, Kamala’s husband, sitting in on guitar, Kamala, Ivy, and I played “29,” “Love Like Murder,” “Black Thumb,” “Bone Bouquet,” and Back to Bodie,” and we almost sounded like we did on the 7.” Kamala still plays drums with the sound and ferocity of a freight train, and Ivy can still sing like she did when she was 22. Frank was kind enough and is talented enough to learn all the songs by ear since Lynda lives in LA, and won’t be able to make it up to practice more than once a month or so. By the time she does come up, we’ll know at least three or four more songs, and we’ll be ready for her to come and put her stamp on them. Two hours went by quickly at that first practice, of many to come, and we, like Ivy predicted, had a lot of fun, but we had to stop practicing before Ivy lost her voice, and so I could get home and get into bed before 10.

I promise I’ll stay up later the night of the show.

 

 

 

Wayward Writers’ Magic

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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.

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Spitboy in Little Rock (a tribute)

 

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One of the most memorable Spitboy shows, for me, was the show we played in Little Rock with Chino Horde outdoors during a spectacular summer rainstorm. I fell in love in Little Rock too (something I only did once while on tour), but that’s not the story I’m going to tell, though the two are definitely related.

We must have arrived in Little Rock early in the morning, or the night before we played in the afternoon by the river because we spent a lot of time at Burt Taggert’s architectural marvel of a house, soaking up some genuine, old-fashioned Southern hospitality. Burt’s mom was kind to us, but she clearly did not approve of our crumpled, fresh-out-of-the-van look and unshaven armpits, urging us to use her shower, “there’s one here and another one down the hall,” and rest up before we came to eat. 

Rested and fed and chatted up, we made our way to the amphitheater where we’d play with Chino Horde and probably some other band too. Adding to the magic of the day, Burt and the rest of the guys doted on us quite a bit, asking if we needed to make any stops for anything we might need once back out on the road. I got the feeling that the Little Rock scene kids were this way with all bands that came through, but that we were getting the extra-special treatment because we were women, and not in the let-me-take-care-of-you-little-lady way; still, there was something sort of gentlemanly about it. And there had been, for quite some time, a strong connection between Little Rock and Bay Area bands, which probably started when Econochrist relocated to the Bay Area in the late 1980’s, but these slightly younger Little Rock punk kids were more Ben Sizemore (quiet, thoughtful in action, and serious about their message) than they were Jon Sumrall (funny, wild, and sometimes out of control). Though, the Ben Sizemore comparison isn’t quite right either. These guys were a whole new, kinder, gentler, punk guy – nothing hard, or threatening, about them.

The sky was a hazy blue when we arrived to the large covered amphitheater, where we would headline since we were the touring band, but we would have been happy playing anywhere on the bill, especially when we saw this beautiful spot — the lazy river, a bridge connecting the two sides of Little Rock on one side, and a large grassy area that spread out all around us. We had played churches, Elk’s lodges, basements, small all-ages clubs, and garages, but this was our first outdoor amphitheater and our first time in Little Rock.

To my surprise, the haziness in the sky had turned to clouds as people began arriving for the show, and by the time Chino Horde began to play, the rain was coming down heavy. The large, covered, amphitheater stage held all the bands and all the punk kids who came out, and we all managed to stay mostly dry. I had never seen or heard of Chino Horde before the tour, but I couldn’t take my eyes of them as soon as they took the stage. Depending on how tired or over stimulated I felt on tour, I would sometimes sit in the van and read before playing. I didn’t usually get nervous before playing, but I did often need to gather myself quietly before playing, and sometimes the van was the only quiet place to go. But sometimes there were bands like Chino Horde who gave you energy, made you excited to get up there after them and participate in the moment, and that’s how I felt on this day. It didn’t matter that the rain was coming down. It only added intensity to the band on stage, their performance punctuated by claps of thunder and flashes of lightening.

At one point during the Chino Horde set, with Burt, and Steve, and Jason, all at their mics, the rain started coming down sideways, wetting one side of the stage. I remember looking from Karin and Adrienne and Paula and to the suddenly dark sky and the rain all around us. They looked worried too, for we couldn’t be sure that Chino Horde or the rest of us wouldn’t be electrocuted. It seemed that Mother Nature was trying to match the energy on stage, or even demanding that Chino Horde keep up, for the further Chino Horde got into their set, the harder it rained. I had never seen such a thing before, a group of young men so intent on playing their music that what seemed to me a dangerous electrical storm was of no consequence.  And for a moment, I didn’t want them to stop. The weather, the music, the young men playing their hearts out in front of us, the whole thing took my breath away.

And just when I didn’t think I could take anymore of the frightening weather and Chino Horde’s intensity, Burt announced their last song, and just like that, the rain slowed, the clouds parted, and the sun burst through, lighting the sky. The audience couldn’t help turning its attention to the sudden change overhead, to the sun shining down again on the bridge, creating a reflection on the water. I remember looking at the Karin, and Paula, and Adrienne, wide-eyed, relieved and in disbelief that such a thing could happen, at what we had just witnessed. Then as Burt, and Steve, and Jason strummed their final notes, and David hit his cymbals the final time, a glittering rainbow fanned out across the whole sky.