Church of the Latter Day Sane

Church of the Latter Day Sane

WO Church of Latter Day Sane Art

By Krista Genevieve Farris

It’s just an old white stucco-covered house on North Loudoun Street, greying and overcrowded. There’s no lawn, just an endless pad of cement from street to a cinderblock porch that’s been painted forest green. I see it every day.That’s my view.

The paint can’t mask the drab. It makes me mad.

When our crepe myrtles bloom, purple blossoms dress the view. And I have to position myself just right to see that ugly porch with the mismatched chairs and random residents chewing their nails and nodding to no one.

In spring, the buds bulge.

I peek my head outside to get the mail. It’s always ads and bank statements
these days—nothing personal. And a man in an alb and a tasseled cincture genuflects, kneels down on that hard porch.

Blesses me—

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Raises a chalice,

a real churchy chalice.

I duck my head and hold-up two fingers “Peace” then double-lock my door.


Summer comes, a hazy blur obscured by ivies, humidity and pollution.  No glorious view of the Blue Ridge.  Just days spent on the porch with my son, his lemonade stand, biting insects and the dander of stray cats that makes me itch and sneeze and leaves me cranky.

The priest guy wants a cup of lemonade, opens our iron gate and hands my 6-year-old 10 bucks.

“Keep the change,” he suggests.

I think he can’t or shouldn’t spare the change.  I don’t want it.

“No,” I say.
My son takes it.

The man sits down.  Dry white flakes fall from the wicker and settle under the chair.  He rambles about God and grad school days and then talks incoherently about God some more.  He flits and drones and eventually leaves.

I tell my son there are too many mosquitoes on the porch the next time he wants to sell lemonade. We wait out the doldrums indoors.  I say I’m scared of West Nile and for some reason he believes me.


Thanksgiving – the leaves rain from the crepe myrtle and cushion our walk. The guy’s cleric robe is grey at the hem from his constant pacing on the treeless sidewalk across the street.  Back and forth and back again – barefoot- he sucks an endless cigarette smoking out one last stand of mosquitos.  He is bald.

Someone yells something indiscernible from a car window.

He screams, “Don’t fuckin’ talk about Jesus fucking Christ like that.”

I slide on the hem of my yoga pants while racing to my window to see.

A woman walking by on the sidewalk asks him

“You O.K.?”

His face is soft and pink.  He smiles a gentle closed-mouth smile,

“Why do you ask?”

He takes a drag off his cigarette nub.  Leaves it between his lips, clasps his hands behind his back, bows his head, turns away and paces.


I’m thankful.

I’m warm




Cigarette smoke hangs over that damn porch across the street like a funky cloud of incense by mid-December.  A barefoot woman with a buzz cut chain smokes in union with him.  I don’t care for her. I really don’t like her being there adding to the haze.

Each Tuesday afternoon at two, after his social worker leaves and the Christian radio station stops preaching on his old boom box and starts playing music, he starts mass.

Every Tuesday he rises from his chair, takes his chalice and walks a few steps away from the porch.  Then he walks back, sits down and lights two cigarettes.  He hands one to the woman.  The two of them sit and smoke- inhaling and exhaling- synchronized for a couple of hours. This goes on for days – this ritual.

Then, she starts rising with him and holds a cup through each mass, following behind him.  She kneels in front of him at the porch and offers the cup.

She trades her jeans for a long dress and the processional lengthens.  Her buzz cut hair is now completely shorn. She’s bald like him.

They cross the street toward me.

I wonder if they can feel my eyes through the window pane.

My son asks me what I’m doing. I say I’m just drinking a cup of tea and tell him to go color in a book.

The next week they come even closer to my home during their processional. They cross the street to the sidewalk right in front of my house, then veer north until they land on the porch of the abandoned house next door to mine. They turn east, kneel together to pray.

I’m a little pissed by the audacity- the trespass.

I’m sure they feel me.  I’ve been staring too long, frozen in my turret window.

I shouldn’t or should look away? I look down.

I see the frayed hem on his robe.  I feel dirty.

My husband asks me what I did today.

Nothing, I say, nothing. Why can’t I say?


It’s a New Year, the beginning of the end of the end of the beginning, and he’s wearing black pants and a black leather jacket and she’s wearing a sweater and a short skirt, her hair is growing, and they’re walking arm-in-arm on the south end of town.   I’m in my minivan waiting for them to move it along at a crosswalk- no chalice at that cross. “Move,  fucking move,” I mutter.

“What Mommy?” says a little voice behind me.

Oh God, did I say that out loud?


Leap day he sits beside her empty chair.

The plastic seat cracked in the cold.

He’s in jeans

robeless, shoeless, sockless, shirtless


He looks toward my house.

I know he sees me

he feels me

sitting at the windows.


A crisp draft breathes at me from under a sill.

Snow dusts the tops of his feet.  He rises,

walks past my house

finally out of my sight.


When I go to meet my son at his bus stop, a neighbor asks if I know anything about a guy dressed like a priest. I shrug. She says the man paused to pace at this school bus stop at the corner of West Avenue and “what’s up with these creeps anyway? Has the whole world lost its mind?”  So she called the police, who followed his footprints down the sidewalk to our alley, into a snow-covered shed.


The man sat in the corner

with some feral cats and

rose peacefully when

they said “come.”

The silence he left is mine

to hear, the empty porch,

my desolation –

his footprints – an order

to witness this gentrification

I think- if it has a pretty,

rational name,  I will be safe from

this purgatory, predatory,

paranoid neighborhood watch.


Krista Genevieve Farris likes the liminality offered by a prolonged sit at a window.  She lives in the Shenandoah Valley with her husband and three sons. Krista has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Social Change from Indiana University and a BA in English and Anthropology from Albion College. Her recent writing can be found on the Brain,Mother blog, Gravel, Literary Mama, Cactus Heart, The Rain, Party and Disaster Society, The Literary Bohemian, The Screech Owl and elsewhere. Please visit her writer’s website –


Check Box: WIC Mom or Non-WIC Mom

Check Box: WIC Mom or Non-WIC Mom

By Jennifer Schaller

DSCF6966Rushing to place my groceries on the conveyor belt before my two-year-old screamed in line, a store clerk, about to weigh my produce, asked, “Are these WIC?”  My incredulous eyebrows raised, I answered “NO” and kept piling my groceries before her.  I live in New Mexico, where we rank number one in childhood hunger for the entire nation.

More than once at more than one grocery store, clerks have asked whether I pay for my groceries with government assistance.  WIC stands for Women, Infants, and Children; it’s a federally funded program that gives pregnant mothers and children assistance with buying healthy food. This time my particular cashier answered my no with a shocked, “No?”  Annoyed, I responded, “NO,” making it quite clear with my tone that I wanted to jump over the counter and punch her in the face.

If she had asked me one more time, I would have let her have it: a tirade about how I worked hard, went to college, got a degree, two in fact, and then busted my butt gaining a professional job.  However, a tirade would not only vent my anger at this poor woman, but it would also let out the fiery rage I feel every time someone places me neatly in a box.  And letting an unsuspecting woman, however ignorant she was, really have it would make me feel like crap.  I strive to be humble—call it a byproduct of my single-parent upraising.  Sure, maybe I was on welfare as a child, but that doesn’t mean I can never move into a higher economic class using only my wits, stamina, and some college loans.

The cashiers are always strangers, so I assume they base their judgment of my financial need on my appearance.  I’m a dark skinned Latina.  There are other criteria that may make others believe I am in need of government assistance: I have more than one child, two to be exact, I shop in the middle of the day on weekdays because my work schedule allows this (not because I’m unemployed), and I live in a poor state.  In 2012, 53 percent of young children in New Mexico’s lived in single-parent households.  I suppose when a person adds all this up, I could be placed neatly into a box—the WIC mom box.  What does a WIC mom look like?  Apparently, she looks like me.  She may look like you.

The irony is that the cashiers who ask me this question are always Latina. During a different grocery shopping trip, when I handed a clerk my credit card, in a Spanish accent thicker than my grandmother’s, she asked, “EBT?”  EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer, and it’s a debit card for welfare.  I had the urge to say “College?” in a snarky tone, but I didn’t.  Spewing anger at other people’s stereotypes will not change anything.  Hopefully my answer of “No” is enough to make someone think differently.  No is what I had to say to my grandmother when she told me at the age of twenty-five to start having kids before she died.  I wasn’t ready to be shoved inside that box of motherhood, not at twenty-five. I wanted to go to grad school.

While 30 percent of New Mexico children are considered poor, and 13 percent more live in extreme poverty, it’s not unheard of for a minority woman to attend college and obtain gainful employment, even if she has two small kids. I know government assistance is a direly needed entity for many children and families in my beautiful state.  When I was a child, my mom would go without food the fourth week of every month until the next allotment of welfare came, so my brother and I could eat. I learned from her experience.  Nearly thirty years later, I feel I’m still climbing out of someone else’s box—brown, black, or white; WIC mom or non-WIC mom.

Jennifer Schaller is a teacher who lives in Albuquerque with her husband and two children.  She usually has a pile of papers to grade and a small child’s nose to wipe, but every so often she ekes out time for writing, some of which has appeared in Brain, Child, Georgetown Review, Sonora Review, and This American Life.  

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Something To Think About: A Poverty Roundtable

Something To Think About: A Poverty Roundtable

Nutshell logoIn a culture where the Horatio Alger myth is alive and well (you know, penniless but plucky kid makes good by dint of hard work and optimism) poor people get blamed for their poverty all the time. But it’s hard to make good long-term decisions when you’re poor particularly because financial poverty also means poverty of choice.  You can’t buy in bulk when you’re getting to the grocery store on a bus. You can’t grow your own organic veggies when you’re living in a one-bedroom basement apartment. And you may end up owing $100 after being ticketed for a broken headlight because you didn’t have an extra $16 to fix it.

Now research shows that the stress of poverty itself can actually cause cognitive deficits, which also contribute to budgeting mistakes and bad decision-making.  According to the researchers, trying to get by when there isn’t enough money is a little like trying to walk through life while simultaneously trying to pat your head and rub your stomach.

I gathered three creative moms who have lived or are living poor and had something to say about the experience.

In alphabetical order, the roundtable participants:

Ariel Gore is the founder of Hip Mama Magazine and the author of seven books including The Hip Mama Survival Guide, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness and How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. She’s also a mom to two. You can find her at

Liz Henry is a former teen mom who writes about politics, pop culture and feminism. She has been featured in The New York Times, Jezebel and iVillage and also appears in the forthcoming book, The Good Mother Myth. Her family recently relocated to Atlanta from Philadelphia. Her site is

Elisabeth Warner is a single mom to a teenage daughter living in Central Ohio. She keeps very busy staging and organizing homes, working as a virtual assistant for local businesses and serving as the outreach coordinator for the Clintonville Community Co-op. Her website is

Ariel: There’s a widespread belief that dysfunction causes poverty and it’s really the other way around. If we’re SO stressed about survival issues it becomes hard to have the mental space for much else.

Elisabeth: I am acutely aware of what happens when even one of the dozens of juggled balls get dropped.

Liz: Every second of every day I have thought about the cost of everything. I see privilege everywhere and my anger seethes. More than anything, I rarely see myself in someone else’s story. The inability to see your own trajectory kills your spirit.

Ariel: I remember when I was a young writer mom on welfare I read a Gertrude Stein quote, “It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.” I do believe that creative genius requires some down time, which requires some freedom from financial stress. That said, I think it’s also true that people who have never wanted for anything or never had to get creative to pay the bills aren’t usually the sharpest tacks.

Liz: I think of poverty like Dante’s Inferno, which is to say there are circles and levels. Desperation, at least to me, is the second to last circle of hell. It’s the level right before Desperation where I can still be creative and work through the soul-crushing, mind-warping anxiety that comes with thinking about every single dollar I have ever spent or where I will get another one or what could I have done differently. In the Third Circle of Poverty Hell, you can quiet the inertia of poverty anxiety until the work is done.

Elisabeth: I have always felt that everything is a series of trade-offs. For me, it was choosing the stress of poverty over the stress of professional engagement, or choosing to stay home with my child over a fulfilling romantic relationship. With my set of values, the choices at hand felt pretty similar, which has sometimes felt empowering and sometimes incredibly depressing.

Ariel: It actually got harder when I had a partner because she had her own financial problems and I stayed in “mama mode” and the habit of bottom-lining everything. As a single mother I found it a little easier to kind of take a bath and alleviate the stress of poverty even if I hadn’t yet alleviated the poverty. It’s easy to convince a little kid that everyone lives without electricity sometimes. When you have other adults the magical thinking doesn’t go as far.

Elisabeth: I hear you about the comfort of autonomy. The irony for me was that I stayed in terrible relationships because I was so afraid of deepening my poverty, when in fact I’ve done better financially alone than when I was partnered. Part of that was having a young child with whom I very much wanted to stay home, which exacerbated the feeling of stuckness, but I also just couldn’t figure out how I would be ok without someone else’s income. It took me way too long to figure out I was capable enough on my own. I’m generally a lot more confident that things will be ok than I was 10 or even 5 years ago.

Ariel: The thing I find heartening is that the brain drain doesn’t last. When we are able to move out of poverty and have a little bit of loafing time to chill we can return to a life of the mind.

Liz: Rather than be sad 99% of the time—which believe me I can be—I get angry.  When I’m on the phone with a random caseworker quizzing me about needless information, I get combative. I walk around thinking that others shouldn’t be inconvenienced by my shitty mood and I’m a general pleasure, but when it comes to bank employees, my unsupportive family, unhelpful caseworkers, I lose it. I’m not supposed to get angry and storm into a bank and say, “How much is enough for you people?! $500 in overdraft fees?”

Elisabeth: Oh, the impotent fury of overdraft fees and restoration charges. I call it the poor tax.

Ariel: I really thought of myself as an artist and valued that my kids were going to be raised in a bohemian kind of a way. And I’m not talking about that post-hippie-selfish-wander-off-artiste-mama archetype, but keeping our overhead lower than most American households meant our poverty-stress threshold was lower, too, and therefore easier to handle. In American culture it’s really difficult not to get sucked into having a very high overhead. But if you are going to be an artist or a writer, you have to be able to allow for a feast-or-famine personal economy.

Elisabeth: How we personally define poverty differs considerably depending on our own experience. By most American standards, I would be considered pretty poor—I make less than $12,000 a year, live paycheck to paycheck, my daughter and I receive food stamps, and I am hyper-aware that even a small financial set-back could mean serious crisis. But I also feel like I live pretty well. We live in a safe and even charming neighborhood, own our house and car, eat well (in no small part because I work at a food co-op that provides me with a generous discount), have Wi-Fi (most of the time!), etc. It could be a lot worse.

Liz: We have an “enough” problem. It’s not enough that you have a home; you have to have the three-car garage. It’s ridiculous and disgusting and I get angry about it and that anger fuels the best of what I write. Almost always.

Have you struggled financially? What are your thoughts? We’d love to continue the conversation in the comments below.

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