Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why I Love Co-sleeping

I do miss my husband—who spends his nights usually in one of the three beds upstairs that I fail to occupy. But after he’s finished his nightly round of TinTin bedtime stories rife with stellar vocabulary for the under age-eight crowd (monocle, Yeti) and names you can’t restrain yourself from saying more than once (Bianca Castafiore, Snowy), I wouldn’t miss the night time conversations I overhear wedged between two of the three kids for anything:

my 6 year old son, to his 3 year old brother, on heaven:

But, down here’s way cooler than heaven. I mean, you get to do sports, like knit.

Can you tell he’s attending a Waldorf school at the moment? And that my sport loving husband (swimming and cross-country coach) will shortly be withdrawing our son’s enrollment when, I mean if, he ever reads my blog?

Co-sleeping criticisms come via the family. Early on I was stunned by the voracity of several generations of my husband’s family members inquiring about our sex life. Out of respect for them, I usually pretend I didn’t hear the question. “How are we managing what? I didn’t quite catch that.” And follow-up with, “Another hors-de-oeuvre?” My husband, far cheekier than I, chimes in with, “What do you think the kitchen floor is for?” which puts high color in everyone’s cheeks and signals my exit to the counter to trade in my champagne flute for a shot-glass.

I’ll admit, one time when I felt I just couldn’t bear sharing the bed with the kids any longer, I did the math. The nights with my children under our roof are finite, like there’s a number I could count to. It was pretty high, like more than a thousand, but still, finite (and they’ll have moved on to their own beds for many of those nights). One day my sons might wake up and decide they want nothing to do with me, mom. And the same for my daughter. So I’ll enjoy the conversation and I’ll take the many wee hour trips holding sticky hands on the way to the bathroom, good for encouraging hygiene, and from the Olympic sport of “Edge Sleeping” that stiff spine, good for encouraging the midnight detour to the kitchen for some stretching, and if I’m lucky, maybe even an uncensored romp.

"Rising Sign" and "Thoughtloops of a Breastfeeding Mom" Live

Paired with the photo of an escargot begonia taken by Robyn Beattie, "Rising Sign" is our second photo/writing collaboration to date: The Mom Egg’s online zine appears as a PDF—our poem/photo displays on page 45. Also check out 4 prose poems by my writing cohort Liz Brennan on page 18, as well as the other fine work featured there. Liz's blog: and Robyn's photo portfolio: .

On the light/humor side of life, “Thought-loops of a Breastfeeding Mom” raises questions regarding the division of labor (house, marriage) when the first newborn arrives and shakes up the routine-- permanently!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Core Secrets: Lethargy and The Grip of the Actual

My youngest son turns four this March; lately I’ve been dogged by a familiar anxiety involving the manuscript sitting on my desk. A thick, rough, core manuscript (started over ten years ago) I haven’t had the urge or the tenacity to face while sleep-deprived (the expectation: a poem a week, sure, perhaps even a short essay or two, but nothing longer).

Even having the time to notice the anxiety means I’ve the time to return to the larger manuscript. I’m trying to shake lethargy…as I prepare to go back in.

And I’m battling the Grip of the Actual—that malady of clinging to the metaphors, images, synchronicities of the events of the past exactly as they descended in my life. Shouldn’t I master fiction first? I asked my friend Mary (author of the memoir The Rooms of Heaven: A Story of Love, Death, Grief and the Afterlife). She understood the impulse to use the buffer of fiction, but added that she hadn’t had much luck morphing memoir into fiction.

Yet these procrastinations masquerading as thoughts persist: Am I lazy if I don’t take the time to master fiction, or science fiction? Yes, if I side with one of my writer heroines, Ursula K. LeGuin. In “Dragons are one of the truths about us,” she writes, “The imagination can transfigure the dark matter of life. And in many personal essays and autobiographies, that’s what I begin to miss, to crave, is transfiguration. To recognize our shared, familiar misery is not enough. I want to recognize something I never saw before. I want the vision to leap out at me, terrible and blazing,--the fire of transfiguring imagination. I want the true dragons… p. 268” (from the wave in the mind). I love that line: To recognize our shared, familiar misery is not enough…

And yet, it seems we write what we want to write. One afternoon last month, sitting around in a Santa Cruz living room with two couples my husband and I adore, I asked the question: What, if I cared about what the market would bear, should I write about next? Six votes for sex, and one-a-piece for vampires, ghosts, the plight of water, the economy, the worldwide balance of power, schizophrenia, mental health, education, and health. But here a month later, I’ve not started a story on any of the above.

And so the marauding “shoulds” continue: should I write short stories to practice writing a novel? Shouldn’t I write at least two novels? So I’ve the distance to return to the core manuscript in its current un-nameable form (poetry smattered personal essay meets graphic memoir storyboard) and tell it from the perfect point of view? Or should I stick with the fairytale? You always know where you stand (bad guys are powerful and evil, good guys are poor and kind). And the unfortunate hero or heroine comes with fatal flaws, some common-sense block or predisposition to thinking the best of others…which is the case with most of us ambling through our childhoods.

In Courageous Dreaming: How Shamans Dream the World into Being, Alberto Villoldo reminds us there are “three fairy tales that become core scripts for our bad dreams...
1. The story of Kind Midas, which turns into the nightmare titled, “I Don’t Have Enough”, 2. The story of the Lion King, which turns into the nightmare titled, “I’m too Old and My Time Has Passed, or 3. The story of Cinderalla, which turns into the nightmare titled, “I’m Too Wounded to Have Power. (p. 38).” Over the years, I’ve learned the cellular sensation of power from the instances of turning to fight the stalker; now in my waking life as a writer, I could stand to take Villoldo’s challenge to channel that power as I grapple with The Manuscript.

A successful memoir, I learned this week, blossoms around the right question the author sets out to answer. In an article titled, “The Mother Memoir: Protecting Our Children From Ourselves” (Nov/Dec 09 Poets and Writers Magazine) Debra Gwartney discusses the process of writing Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Lives. Gwartney learns from an instructor that her “memoir’s query was not…Why did my daughters leave me? That would solicit a story that tried to explain [my daughters] while protecting and defending me. Instead the question I had to answer as a memoirist was this: Who is the woman whose daughters would leave her?” Gwartney mentions the ten years it took for her to write and rewrite her book. What strength, bravery, and persistence to allow her work to ripen.

Which leaves me nowhere to go, but to the next couple steps: 1. ferret out the right question to answer. 2. Trust that the self I’m falling down the rabbit hole after will have the thigh muscles (thick as bergamot) to climb back out. I’m afraid, but when has that stopped any of us writers. When fear looms, the wrong self sits at the helm (with some fixed,“The End,” in mind). I also know once I start, the other self takes over, who discovers “The And”, a much broader perspective arrived at by mucking through the morning’s hours of raw writing…

should I be willing….

to begin again.

Further reading:

Shaman, Healer, Sage by Alberto Villoldo, PhD (with practical exercises). Also by this author: The Four Insights, Dance of the Four Winds (with Erik Jendresen), and Yoga, Power, and Spirit.

Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, by Debra Gwartney.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Three Views of Jessica Powers: Press Founder, Editor, Writer

In this interview, Jessica Powers discusses the rich, varied threads of her life as a writer. Inspirational in her dedication to all three “selves,” Powers is the author of the teen-age focused novel The Confessional, founding editor of the on-line zine The Fertile Source, and founder of Catalyst Book Press http://www.catalystbookpress (publisher of the January 2009 anthology Labor Pains and Birth Stories).

What drew you to put out a call for birth stories?

When I put the call out for submissions, I hadn’t thought a lot about birth. My best friend had three children by then, and I do remember what a shock it was to me how much our friendship changed after the birth of her first baby. I was still living the swingin’ single 20s life and I guess I expected us to still gal-pal around town like normal. So I was shocked when she brought her baby to our first lunch date a couple weeks after Abby was born. I’m not sure what I expected she would do with her baby while she was living it up with me—leave her at home? take her to her mother-in-law’s? I guess you could say I didn’t grow up as fast as she did.

Anyway, when my brother and his wife had a daughter six years ago, my sister-in-law made a comment that she really should write down her baby’s birth story before she forgot any of the details. A light bulb went off in my head at that moment and I realized that birth was a profoundly transformative event in people’s lives, that it was probably the most spiritual thing a person could do even though it has a raw physicality to it. I went home and looked up “birth stories” on the internet and discovered, to my shock, that thousands of women were posting their birth stories on the internet.

I realized immediately that here was a book. I started out editing it with my best friend but she had to bow out because she was expecting her fourth child etc etc. But I’m glad to say that while I was receiving the very first submissions for the book, I was able to be at the birth of her fourth daughter, a natural birth, a water birth, which took place at Maternidad La Luz ( in downtown El Paso. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to have children due to chronic pain issues. Tabitha knew that and felt like it was important that I get at least one chance to see a birth. I’ll always be grateful that I got to witness the miracle in action before I really started editing this book.

What did you learn as you went through the process from start to finish (culling stories to final publication)?

I learned a tremendous amount about pregnancy, the process of giving birth, and what it means to become a parent. I also learned how political birth is, something I never realized before. I personally don’t take sides on the political issues—I feel that every woman should have the right to choose the best kind of birth for herself and her family. So if a woman wants a home birth, I think she should be able to have it, and the legal apparatus should be in place so that she’s not denied a safe, effective home birth. But if a woman wants an epidural in a hospital, go for it. Okay, I don’t know how I feel about elective cesareans but I’m not going to judge, let’s put it that way.

Despite the fact that I didn’t have a political agenda when I edited the book, I’ve noticed that people do have a political response to the book. I didn’t have any criteria for the essays except that I wanted each essay I selected to reach the highest literary standards. I’ve found Christians who like the pro-natal aspect of the book but object to the fact that I’ve included a couple of essays by lesbians. Natural or home birth proponents have objected to the fact that I include hospital births in the book. And hospital birth proponents have argued that the book is biased towards natural birth. Whatever. About half the births in the book are hospital births and half are natural births so I don’t see how there could be a “bias” from either side. And I included essays by Christians, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and who knows what. I honestly didn’t care about that part of it. I just wanted to show that whatever TYPE of birth a person experiences, and no matter what spiritual persuasion a person has, the process of giving birth is life-affirming (even when a baby dies, as happens with one of the birth stories in the book) and that process changes men and women in profound and measurable ways.

To be honest, I’m still learning. The book has been out for nine months (ironic, huh?) and I’m still learning tons about birth, pregnancy, and publishing. I guess that’s not going to change anytime soon.

What drew you to forming Catalyst Press?

I didn’t really expect to do it. I have a wonderful agent but she just wasn’t able to sell this book. It came close a couple of times—made it to the editorial table and then got nixed because nobody was sure how to market it. I remember thinking, “What do you mean, you don’t know how to market it? Don’t you market it to expecting and new parents? Can’t you market it to grandparents?” I have never met a person who, upon hearing this topic, doesn’t have a birth story to tell me.

So after my agent told me she’d exhausted the possibilities, I started thinking about how much I believe in this book, and that I wanted to see it out there. I sent it around to a few small presses and no cigar. That’s when I decided to start a small press. I didn’t want to be a one-book press, so I opened up for submissions and it snowballed from there. I have two books out now, four coming out in 2010, and 2 scheduled for 2011. All of the books I’m publishing in the next two years are related to fertility or sexuality. I didn’t expect that but I’m glad to be forming a niche market. That’s the only way a small press can really succeed.

It’s exhausting but I do like working with writers. I’ve met some cool people because I decided to do this…so no matter what happens with the press in the future—whether it’s wildly successful or not—I’m glad I did it.

What advice would you give others considering starting their own small press?

Don’t do it!!! Ha-ha. Okay, that really is my advice, and it’s the same advice I heard from my mentors Bobby & Lee Byrd, who run a very successful small press, Cinco Puntos Press (

But having said that, if you’re determined to do it, you should talk to those of us who have gone before you. And you should be intrepid and bold. Believe in the books you publish! Love the process! Don’t be discouraged by the fact that you won’t sell as many books as you’d like to sell. Be grateful for every book you sell and every good review you get and every person who writes to say they like your books. Expect to incur some debt. Curse that debt. Curse it thoroughly with as many fancy, colorful, four-letter words you know. But before you start, please remember that this debt will always be there and it never goes away. No matter how much money your books bring in, your costs always seem to be just that much more than what you make.

When did you know you were a writer?

Apparently, I used to write short stories and leave them around the house when I was only six or seven years old. I do remember creating a small book with construction paper and writing back cover copy on the book that read similar to the kinds of things you read on the backs of picture books and chapter books for early readers. “Michael was a bad boy. He liked to steal food from old ladies. But one day, Michael changed. Read this book. You will love this story…”

I lost my love of writing when I was eight and went to a school where, on Friday, my teacher would threaten to pull my fingers out with a pair of pliers if I didn’t learn my capital letters by Monday morning. At eight, I kind of believed he would really do that, and I remember pulling my hair out when I had to write a creative story—I had lost all my love for learning.

My mother was disturbed by what she saw, not only my emotional and intellectual deterioration but my brother’s as well. She pulled us out of school and taught us at home. This was in 1984, when it was still illegal in the state of Texas to home school, and when people told my mom that she was a bad mother for doing it. I know homeschooling is popular now—but back when my mother did it, nobody was doing it. We kept ourselves well-hidden, told people we went to private school, and attended court cases where homeschooling parents were being sent to jail and their kids placed in foster care. Eventually, homeschoolers successfully sued the state of Texas and a judge ruled that homeschooling was legal because it was, essentially, private school.

At home, my mother unraveled the pressure I’d been under at school. She encouraged me to read and re-discover who I was. The summer I was ten, my dad took me and my brothers on a trip to South Dakota, where I visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead. When I came home, I told my mother that I wanted to be a writer “like Laura” when I grew up. That fall, for English, my mother let me write a novel. My novel was set in the pre-Civil War era and told the story of a family who helped runaway slaves escape to Canada by hiding them in the Grand Piano in their living room.

It was a horrible novel but I was hooked…. By the time I went to college at 16, I’d written half a dozen novels.

What is your favorite genre of writing (to write) and why?

Oh, I definitely like writing for teens most of all. Teens change more in two weeks than most adults change in a year. It’s such a horrible, wonderful, scary hormonal time. I love exploring that world. I love teens. I wouldn’t want to still BE a teen, but they’re really fun to be around.

I also write non-fiction for adults. Somebody once told me that you know your calling by the books you’re drawn to. They didn’t mean “you know your calling as a writer.” They meant that if you’re drawn to books about social justice in Africa, maybe you’re called to work in Africa and help bring social justice to that continent. Or if you read about women’s rights all the time, you should work for women’s rights. You get the idea. Well, I’m drawn to fiction for young adults….and non-fiction for adults on all topics but especially religion, health & healing, fertility, race, immigration, and violence. (Hey, those are the topics I’m drawn towards in y.a. fiction, too, so go figure…) As a writer, I’ve decided that’s my “calling”….to write about these things.

What inspired you to write The Confessional?

The Confessional is a young adult novel that explores racial tension and school violence at an all-boys Catholic high school along the U.S.-Mexico Border. After a Mexican terrorist blows up one of the international bridges linking El Paso, Texas to Juarez, Mexico, the racial tension at the Catholic school between the Mexicans and the Americans spills over into violence. There’s a vicious school fight that leads to a murder, and in the ensuing investigation, the six characters who tell the story in alternating viewpoints must examine their friendships, their loyalties, and their faith.

I wrote it while I was teaching at a school exactly like that in El Paso, Texas. The fall I started teaching there, we had just started the war in Iraq a few months earlier. I remember being surprised to see the “us vs. them” mentality among the young men I taught. I also remember being surprised to see ideas about the war breaking along national loyalties. The Mexican students who crossed the border every day to attend Cathedral High School were opposed to the war. My American students were pro-war, with a few exceptions. I could also see that there weren’t many friendships crossing that nationality barrier. The Mexican students stuck with the Mexican students while the American students stuck with the American students. I wanted to confront this “us vs. them” mentality that I felt was dominating the U.S. at that time, reflected in the friendships and loyalties displayed by my students. One of the American characters in my novel is gay; going to an all-boys school means he keeps his sexuality secret; but during the course of the novel, he’s placed in an unusual position of wondering whether his sexuality makes him even more of a “them” then the Mexican students in the “us vs. them” mentality that provides the context of the novel.

Once you realize the “us and them” mentality is unhealthy, you begin to recognize it everywhere. We all have identities that make us who we are but that should be used to enrich us and not divide us. For example, I’m Catholic. But does my Catholicness mean that I’m separated from people around me who aren’t Catholic? I’m also very liberal, socially speaking. Does that really need to separate me from the people I know who are very conservative? I feel like I’ve been able to embrace relationships with a lot of people who are very different from me, whose identities and loyalties are in different “camps” than my own—but I don’t see that happening with most people. I know a lot of liberals who can’t have a civil conversation with a conservative, and vice versa. I know a lot of Christians who can’t have a close, real relationship with people who aren’t Christians. I find this profoundly sad. That’s the dynamic I wanted to explore in this novel.

What are you working on right now?

Actually, I have several projects going on right now. I’m working on a novel for young adults about bullying and fear and love. I’m also working on a memoir about my time in South Africa talking to people about healing—personal healing, spiritual healing, non-traditional healing. This latter book started because I recently finished a novel for teens about a young urban Zulu girl who receives the call to be a spirit healer, called a sangoma in Zulu, after her mother’s HIV turns into AIDS.

For Catalyst Book Press, I’m editing an anthology of stories about stillbirth and miscarriage. I’m also working to bring out a book by a rape-survivor about her decision to give birth at home, a book by a woman who suffered a terrible stillbirth at 8 months old, an anthology about birth and adoption (many of these essays are written by the women who have placed children in adoption), and a memoir by a woman who contracted HIV while she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa during the 1980s.

Upcoming calls for manuscripts out of Catalyst Press?

We actually are working on two anthologies right now—one about adoption and one about miscarriage. I have so many books coming out in the next two years that I can’t think about what’s next. I’m just trying to get through the next couple of years. I will probably have a call for more essays at the end of 2010—maybe on infertility—so please be on the lookout.

I would say that if you have a book manuscript that you’re interested in having me see, you should wait six months or so before you approach me with it. Right now, I’m swamped with manuscripts that I need to read. Having said that, though, I’m like any publisher—I’m always looking for the next great thing. If you’ve looked at what I do, and you’re CERTAIN that it’s right for me, then you should email me anyway.

Cal you talk a little bit about The Fertile Source (

The Fertile Source is a literary zine that I publish online. I publish fertility, infertility, and adoption related writings and artwork. The website doesn’t make any money so I don’t offer compensation to contributors—but I hope it gives them a lot of exposure. I know it has readers and I get a steady stream of contributions.

I’ll admit that I started The Fertile Source as a marketing tool to sell copies of Labor Pains and Birth Stories. I thought it would be just one more place where people could come to find out about the book. But it quickly became much more than that—that is, it quickly became a real literary magazine. From the beginning, people have sent me really quality short stories, poems, essays, even plays, and the occasional piece of artwork.

Also, it hasn’t sold a single copy of Labor Pains and Birth Stories that I know of—not through the bookstore embedded in the website, at least. But I don’t care. I love the fact that I’m offering a creative outlet for a lot of great writers who write about this topic. And I hope that men and women find the pieces published here helpful as they work through their struggles and as they experience their joys around these topics.

The more I’ve immersed myself in the topic of fertility, the more I’ve realized that it’s a fundamental part of our individual and collective identities. We organize our lives around the choices we make in regards to our fertility—when we become sexually active, what kinds or whether to use birth control, when and if to have children and how many children to have and with whom, the person or people we marry or partner with. And sometimes our lives are organized for us when those choices are taken away, whether through infertility or some other sadness.

Upcoming related events:

Birth Stories Workshops, offered through Catalyst Book Press and The Fertile Source. Instructors include Jessica Powers ( , Tania Pryputniewicz, Monica Murphy Lemoine (, and Corbin Lewars (founder/editor of the print zine Reality Mom, author of the forthcoming book Creating a Life: the Memoir of a Writer and Mom in the Making). Available in-person, as webinars, and via phone conferencing or SKYPE. To arrange a workshop, call Jessica at (925)606-5992 or email her at

Friday, October 16, 2009

Two Performances: Canyon Sam’s Sky Train and SF Free Civic Theater’s Reckless

During a rare week Liz and I failed to have new poems for one another, we kept our writing night date by sneaking off to Copperfields Bookstore to hear Canyon Sam, author of Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History. Sam spoke of the book’s 19 ½ year timeline and resultant winnowing down of more than two dozen original interviews with Tibetan women to the final four she included. I left Sam’s reading with an entirely new awareness of the struggle to free Tibet, and as Sam put it, how the face of the struggle shifted for her once she learned from one interviewee that no contingency plan existed for women to travel to safety with spiritual leaders (thus forcing husbands to choose between their wives and the heavy karmic debt incurred should they fail to protect their Rinpoche). The side effect of such a belief system left women, children and the elderly to suffer the brunt of the invasion and twenty or more years in labor camps. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter and the continued gravity of the situation facing the women of Tibet, Sam drew laughs from the audience with a passage describing 9th century monastery plumbing.

Reckless, written by Craig Lucas (performed by the San Francisco Free Civic Theatre this month), explores the psychological challenges that befall an American wife when her husband takes out a contract out on her life. I attended the October 11th matinee performance at the Randall Museum, and thought the play might also be titled Relentless for the onslaught of events befalling the lead (Rachel) in 28 cinematic scenes. Each scene ends with a twist, forcing the audience to face some uncomfortable emotions as the playwright looks at the lies that allow people to love themselves and others (I heard both hearty and hesitant laughs, but overall a quiet intensity emanating from the audience).

Lead actress Sarah Doherty, speaking about Rachel’s character flaws, mused: Throughout the rehearsal process we’ve all considered Rachel’s incessant talking as her main character weakness, as it gets her into trouble and strains her relationships with her spouse, her friends, her coworkers. An even bigger character weakness in Rachel is the lack of initiative to take care of herself or to critically think about situations she is put in. She is passed from caregiver to caregiver, father to husband, and is never given the chance to grow up, learn to fend for herself, or know what it means to be alone. It never occurs to her that she lacks those life and social skills. When given the chance to flee her own impending death, it is the very husband who wanted her dead who has to shove her out of their bedroom window in order to remain safe. Having a notion of personal responsibility over her own well being, and believing in the impact of her decisions are things that Rachel could certainly work on.

Despite Rachel’s lack of world experience she is incredibly compassionate and nonjudgmental when other characters are letting their skeletons out of the closet. She also has an admirable optimism and fresh outlook that is ultimately shaken and tested by the end of the play, but I don’t think the circumstances she’s given completely take those qualities away from her. She isn’t conflicted about trying to figure out who she is, in that she doesn’t feel the pressure or obligation to live up to what anyone else expects her to become. She fearlessly tries on different names, different therapists, different cities, figuring out what works and what doesn’t in shaping her own identity for herself.

I also learned from Sarah that the playwright had been abandoned in a gas station at the age of 10 months old—found by strangers, and adopted. Such a context is not necessary for enjoying or understanding Reckless, but it shed light on why the play so intensely grapples with lies, hidden motivations, abandonment, and the relationship between mother and son. I’m still waiting to hear back from Sarah on this one: In twenty years, who will Rachel be? Will she break down (or through) and reach out to her son?

Congratulations, cast of Reckless, to fine performances all around.

Reckless continues to run: October 16 & 17 7:30 p.m.
Oct 23, 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Oct 25: 3 p.m.
at Eureka Valley Recreation Center Auditorium
100 Collingwood Street in San Francisco

Admission: Free.

to reach SF Free Civic Theater:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Marilyn, Arriving: Collage, Astrology and Poetry

I never met her--but there she stood on the back of one of the bedroom doors in our house, gracing a poster taller than my parents. I remember falling asleep to that black and white image: city street, sturdy legs, skirt billowing up, one hand holding down the pleats but not really. It was either my brother’s poster or a poster we pitched in for my father—I can’t remember—grade school. Maybe 7th grade.

Then she made her way into a collage I was making at a tiny round table in Joyce Renwick’s basement. (Joyce pulled me up by my bootstraps after graduate school and not only rented me her basement apartment, but talked some sense into my poetry loving brain...“Yes, you can write, but you have to earn a living until your writing can earn your let’s figure out where you can teach....”). Dutifully I landed a few summer creative writing workshops to teach and by night, scored essays at one of the testing agencies in Iowa City.

As I made the transition from graduate student to working teacher that winter, I made collages. This particular one featured a stained glass cathedral window, the grey and white photo of a hummingbird, the fanned feathers of its extended wings mirroring the white fan of that same girl’s skirt, same pose. The hummingbird and the girl were separated by a close-up of the petals of a rose, and one of those angels stepping down out of the sky in silken robes on the verge of catching fire. I hung the collage at the foot of my bed where the dark paneled walls had not yet been painted white, and the low popcorn ceiling seemed to undulate even after I closed my eyes.

In secret rebellion of my working life, I’d taken up astrology. I drove beside my “real astrologer” friend Bonnie through the bitterly cold night several towns over to our teacher Andrea. For homework Andrea handed out five charts of public figures. Our job was to guess. Only one of the charts floated into focus, given my rudimentary sense of the energies of the planets. It was so long ago I can’t haul up the specifics of the chart; I only know I recognized something, like when you are swimming in a body of water and you sense, for example, a seal, or a dolphin approaching before you spot them beside you. From this chart, I got a visceral sensation of vulnerability, charisma and danger woven together. I thought it might be her.

Yes, Andrea nodded, you have Marilyn before you.

And ever since then, the reverse birth image never left me, of petals, hummingbirds, and Marilyn trying to breathe.

Further reading:

“Marilyn” is currently up this week, thanks to Salome Magazine, at

I’ve left the astrology to my more talented friends, like Bonnie Orgren (M.S.W. Astrologer, Counselor, Healing Touch, Reiki). To get Bonnie Orgren’s beautifully written and free monthly Stardust Seven Ray Services Reports on planetary happenings, write to her at: or you can go to: and look up Bonnie's latest report.

Joyce Renwick: In Praise of What Persists, a collection of short stories published posthumously by editor Richard Peabody available at:
To read a 1995 interview with Joyce Renwick: