I’m on my third boomerang move. The first time, I was just 21: dropped out of college my senior year, moved back “home” with my parents as a sort of cheap alternative to rehab. It wasn’t the house, or even the town, I’d grown up in: Mom and Dad upgraded to a bigger, nicer house in Victorville, 30 miles across the desert from Barstow (that much closer to LA) my second year of college. I felt terribly cheated by their decision to move, selfishly so. I wanted, on those rare times I came home to visit– Thanksgivings, Christmases, the occasional Easter, to come home to the house of memory.

 I would create new memories, somewhat, during the first boomerang move, which lasted maybe eight months. I met a guy online, fell in love, moved to Davis to be with him at the first possible opportunity. In the meantime, I worked as a janitor at Mountain High with my brother, and also at the Hot Dog on a Stick at the mall. I also tried out for, and got to be a contestant on, Win Ben Stein’s Money. I didn’t win, but I did well, and had a lot of fun.

When at twenty two, after transferring to UC Davis, and setting up house with the boyfriend I’d made online, I thought to myself: well, I’m totally independent now. I won’t hbe moving back with the folks ever again. After entering the PhD program in English at Davis two years later, I believed myself to be 100% grown-up, worldly-sophisticated and totally self-sufficient. Adult, if you will.

 Then, shortly after my 26th birthday, my Dad died of melanoma. I came to Victorville at the end of his illness, and stayed for the funeral. The next day, I was back in Northern California, sitting at a seminar table at UC Berkeley, where I was taking a class through the inter-campus exchange. I still thought I was going to finish that PhD. School started at Davis just a week or two later, but because my personal tragedy had occurred after Summer Session 2 ended but before Fall quarter began, I didn’t get one of those department-wide condolence emails announcing a death in the family. I think quite a few of my professors had no idea what had happened. To them, I just stopped being good at my work (do I still sound bitter?). My only concern was coping. I ended the relationship with the fellow from the internet following our four years of cohabitation, and tried to figure out what it was I ought to be doing with myself. I didn’t have many ideas, but a PhD didn’t seem like so great of a goal anymore.

I stuck around for a few more quarters, just long enough to eke out a Master’s before taking the leave of absence I wouldn’t return from. I should be home with my family, I thought. We ought to be together for our mourning, to support each other in our bereavement. I moved my stuff into storage and returned to Victorville for the second boomerang move.

Here’s what I thought was going to happen (besides mutual familial support and healing): I’d live at Mom’s, rent-free, get a job substitute teaching, and save enough money to pay off my student loan. It was a fine plan. Except I hit one little snag, trying to get that subbing job: my background check didn’t check out. Just one little arrest (no conviction) and I was deemed unfit to teach (well, I had to assume: I was never told specifically that I was prohibited from teaching, only that there was an indefinite “hold” on my LiveScan, which was finally lifted a full year after I’d jumped through all the hoops and expenses of getting cleared to substitute teach— TB screening, the CBEST exam, the aforementioned fingerprinting, etc. . . . costs I never recuperated because I never set foot in a K-12 classroom). Instead, I parlayed my fancy MA degree in English into a job as a Barnes & Noble bookseller, where I earned just enough to cover my gas and drinking expenses at the local karaoke bar, the only place that made living in Victorville tolerable.

With my income-to-expense ratio resulting in a net savings of zero, I made one last-ditch effort to earn the kind of cash that would allow me to settle my undergrad debt: I took the online test for Jeopardy!, and got called in to audition. I made it. As with Ben Stein’s Money, I acquitted myself admirably, but got matched up with a competitor who couldn’t be beaten. I took second place, a disappointing $2000 (yes, a tidy sum for just a day’s work, but one fifth of what I expected to take home. Yes, expected. I was that naïve). With the prize money, I bought a train ticket to Ann Arbor, where a new boyfriend was waiting for me. I had decided there was little reason for me to stay in Victorville, since I could as easily work at a B&N in Michigan and frequent the karaoke bars there; my presence at home didn’t seem to have much of an impact on anyone else’s grieving process, let alone my own, so why stay where I felt so stifled?

That was 2006. My issues with Victorville are no different than they were six years ago: the arts get little play here, and culture lies predominantly in the realms of off-road vehicles, professional wrestling and/or MMA fighting, drinking 40s in garages, indoor flea markets and dollar stores, and customizing the rear windows of SUVs and low riders with memorials to the dearly departed. Food is fast and life is cheap. Gang activity is common. Sprawl is rampant and walking is seldom an option—not just because of the relentless heat and lack of shade, but because of the aforementioned sprawl and dearth of sidewalks (not to mention a lack of worthwhile destinations, the Barnes and Noble at the mall and my favorite karaoke bar being the only notable exceptions, in my humble opinion).

I should add that I am deeply ashamed by that paragraph. I know the biases that it betrays, and that these are rooted in some ugly tendencies—a classist, racist attitude that college inculcated in me even as I studied the strains of academia that ostensibly would help me recognize those tendencies and combat them (women, gender and cultural studies). Where I come from, people are poorer, less educated, and more ethnically diverse than they are at Gonzaga or UC Davis. I’m trying to figure out how to own this in a way that doesn’t manifest as shame, or regret at the opportunities that weren’t available to me as a youth.

This investigation is part of the reason for my present boomerang move, though not the primary one. As with the prior moves home, this is an arrangement of convenience: I needed some time off during my transition between my accidental career in co-op marketing and my next move to MFA school and (what I hope will be) the start of my career as a writer. Mom’s house is still a rent-free, air-conditioned haven with a well-stocked refrigerator. There are additional physical considerations: Davis is temperate, near sea level, and a Shangri-La of sustainable living and local, seasonal, organic food. Leaving was difficult. I hope that the culture shock of my move to Tucson will be mitigated somewhat by this summer break in a place where the climate and elevation resemble southern Arizona more closely than northern California. I’m re-learning the necessity of copious hydration, the regular application of body lotion, and fabric softener PLUS dryer sheets (static electricity is a nightmare I had completely forgotten).

 I’m re-learning how to be me in a desert, as well as in a more existential sense. This family I come from, these cities of Barstow and Victorville helped shape me. How to reconcile where I come from with where I’m going—not to mention the exposure to dry, open spaces, spectacular sunsets and a sky as broad as the Earth is wide, and the interaction of this environment with my particular aesthetic (part of the draw of Tucson)—that’s what I’m here to do with my summer vacation. I’ve got a month left to do it in. I hope I have some progress to report before I go.



A perennial flower, blossoming, blooming, thriving, then dying; going to seed, returning to earth, waiting a season or three, then blossoming, blooming again: let’s say that’s why my portfolio is so slim, so sporadic. I’m a late bloomer.

I didn’t think it was going to happen that way. I was 9 or 10 when I started writing in earnest. By high school, I believed I was going to win a Pulitzer by the age of 30.

My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Morgan, gave us weekly creative writing assignments. They were always due on a Monday. One weekend, on or around Groundhog’s Day, I had been procrastinating, and didn’t work on the assignment until the last minute, Monday morning at my desk, waiting for the bell to ring.

That glorious Monday, I learned about the power of deadline, and under pressure, produced a masterpiece.

The masterpiece, a poem in trochaic tetrameter with ‘abab’ rhyme scheme, was called “The Groundhog.” I astonished myself with the way it flew from my pencil, fully formed, instantly apprehended. That piece, and the way it came to me, assured me of my Gift. “The Groundhog” won first place in a district-wide competition for creative writing at the end of the school year, and with that little taste of victory, I grew hungry for more.

In the 6th grade, our D.A.R.E. program featured an essay contest. My treatise on why drugs and alcohol were bad won. That was also the year I won our district’s spelling bee, and took home a trophy nearly as tall as I was.

But it went underground a few years– middle school, 9th grade, I wasn’t writing. I mean, I may have journaled some, but there are no poems or stories from those years, when I was just anxious a lot of the time. Sassy magazine was my bible and I conjured a nascent feminist identity from its glossy pages, among ads for T’rific skin care products and Caboodles. All around me girls were turning into women, but I was small-breasted, with glasses and braces, painfully adolescent.

I guess I was too busy trying to author my womanhood to do any writing then. It makes sense that I started up again in the 10th, 11th grade, just as I was getting comfortable in my skin. Braces gave way to perfectly straight teeth; the boobs I wanted never quite got to the size I’d have liked, but at least there was something there; I got contact lenses. Emerging into confident teenagehood, my pen was suddenly prolific. Short stories became my new preferred genre, and I cranked them out weekly. My junior year I submitted a slew of my work for Barstow’s Desert Heritage Writing Contest, and practically swept all the awards in every category.

At college, I invested a lot in the cultivation of a proper aesthetic. I started exploring poetry. I worked hard on reading it, writing it, made friends with fellow poets and harbored a secret desire to read at a poetry slam like the ones I sometimes went to. I won Gonzaga’s poetry prize, the Costello Award, in 1999. I got a plaque and $100. The plaque was presented to me by the chair of the department at a ceremony where most of the honorees were faculty. I listened with great interest to the kinds of academic work that was being recognized; it was my first glimpse at what professors did when they weren’t teaching. After the ceremony, I approached the English Department chair, my Shakespeare and Milton instructor, to ask him about the $100, which was not presented at the ceremony. He sent me to the Department secretary, who sent me to the Registrar’s office, where I eventually did get my check, but first he said to me, “Yes, seize upon that prize money, make sure that you get it; it may be the most you’re ever paid for your poetry.”

I mean, I know where he was coming from– after all, this was the guy who had told us that more volumes of poetry are shoplifted than sold at bookstores each year– but, still.

I decided shortly thereafter that my life and needs would best be suited by a career in academia. After all, why would anyone want to hear anything I might have to say, before I was fully versed in the Greats?

That misapprehension lasted about five years, before I took my Master’s and fled. It took another five years before I’d put pen to paper, fingers to keys, and start calling myself a writer again.

I’m a writer. I’m writing my first book right now. I’m writing it because it seems silly to be thirty two and have a bibliography of zero. There’s a lot of work I have to do, lots of books I have to write, that I have been waiting to write. I’ve got a lot more reading to do, as well. But I’ll never make any of it happen if I don’t get all this out first. The memoir. The story of the life, up to now. My introduction to the world of letters. What I see, how I see it, in the way I want it told.


Last fall, I gave myself a deadline of September 14, 2011 (my 33rd birthday) to write a book– a memoir in 33 short essays or vignettes. In January, I enrolled in a proper Creative Nonfiction course, and I’m now in my second session of that course. Last week, I submitted my first essay for publication in a local lit mag. I’m not sure whether to expect it to be accepted, but I’m proud of this personal milestone that subjecting my work to the possibility of (gasp!) rejection represents.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m a writer.

And now that I’m a practicing writer, and it’s 2011, it seems the appropriate step to take to have a blog. I suppose I could wait until after I’m published, but as I previously mentioned, it’s 2011.  Lately I’ve been feeling a little sheepish that I didn’t have one. Plus, this way, when I am published, I’ll have a blog address to include with my author’s bio, and when readers visit, they will be delighted to find that the blog is extant, if new.

I sweated bullets over naming this thing, and was ready for my inaugural post to include a list of potential titles (finalists) and encourage readers to pick their favorites. That is, until “Mira, Mi’jita” popped into my head, and I knew it could be named nothing else. I did not make the decision lightly: this is not jut a blog, it’s a brand. And it’s a brand that’s affiliated with Melanie Madden, Writer, so it has to be of a piece with what I’m here to say, what I write about.

I’m glad that I found the right title (or that it found me), but because it’s fun, I now present the list of rejected blog names and my notes on the sort of blog direction I figure they implied:

False Start 2.0
Tongue-in-cheek: its melancholic humor is characteristic of my style. I want to distill and express all the amazing truth and beauty that I can get my hands on, and get my language on. I tried once before, but the route I was taking led me, personally, to a dead end (academia is not for everybody, but it is for some people), so this is my second attempt: False Start, 2.0 as a challenge to myself to remain a contradiction. To stick with this enterprise, this life of being a practicing writer, no matter how awkward it seems, no matter how delayed I feel.

Also, it looks cool abbreviated: FS2.0

Themes I Deem Seemly
I like to play with language, to the point of silliness. Themes I Deem Seemly points to that impulse: to play with English, to put on characters, to slather heavy coats of literary technique in places it doesn’t necessarily belong. Strong internal rhyming in a blog title, to wit. Alliteration is another atrocity (as is assonance).

Themes I deem seemly might cover a lot of ground. There are a number of topics that interest me, paths of inquiry that I hope to explore in my writing. I’m just one writer, and I can’t pursue all of them, but I will pursue the ones that I’m most driven to tackle. Right now I am working on a memoir, so issues of family and self-discovery are forefront on my mind. So you’ll probably be seeing a lot of that in this blog.

Also, it looks cool abbreviated: TIDS

If Enough of You Read This, I Can Quit My Day Job
Dripping with self-consciousness and hipster irony, I position myself as literary kin to all the cool kids in the blogosphere and contemporary letters. The blog becomes my real-life inspiration to turn writing from a part-time passion to a full-time profession.

Awkward to abbreviate, at best: IEOYRTICQMDJ
The abbreviated abbreviation isn’t bad, though: ICQMDJ

Ad Nauseum, Limited
Ad Nauseum:To a disgusting or absurd degree
Limited: 1. Confined within certain limits 2. Mediocre or qualified: A limited success.
Again, I like the playfulness of the oxymoron, the self-consciousness and humility. I promise to go on and on, to cover an exhaustive litany of topics… within reason.

I’m ambivalent about its abbreviation: ANL

Border Blender
This title acknowledges my culture and heritage as a half-caucasian, half-Mexican American, and the influence of Gloria Anzaldua, whose Borderlands/La Frontera is the most important book I’ve ever read. One part baseball and one part beisbol, half Halloween and half Dia De Los Muertos, one part missions and one part cathedrals. Blender to conjure refreshing slushy mixed drinks, like margaritas.

Can’t fault this abbreviation: BB

And here is the first draft of the possible blog title list, in its entirety:

Potential, Realized
Writer in Progress
Literacy for the Functionally Illiterate
Not-Boring Childhood Stories
Weird Shit I Notice
False Start 2.0
Life: A Miraculous Celebration
Themes I Deem Seemly
Define “Dream”
Love in an Elevator
If Enough of You Read This, I Can Quit My Day Job
Emotions Unleashed
Ad Nauseum Unlimited
Ad Nauseum, Limited
Walking Reverie
Prose and Portraiture
Border Blender
Stroke and Mirrors
Point on Pointe
Cocktail Hour for Your Conscience
People Prose
Nerve Tonic
Voice and Flow
Point of View to a Kill
Mel Verbs Words
Smarty Spice’s Soapbox
I Was on Jeopardy, Bitch
Making the Memoir: A Manual By Melanie Madden
Putative Poetry

* * *
That’s all for now!