by Mary Volmer

A friend of mine, a white Christian woman, like me, posted this meme on Facebook. It was meant to end any discussion of white America’s legacy of racial violence and to silence calls for social justice. Cute little innocent girl, says the meme. The implication: poor little innocent me. Leave the past to the past. Leave me be.

My friend is right. The bombing of Pearl Harbor is not the fault of Japanese infants any more than she or I are at fault for dropping two atomic bombs on the ancestors of Japanese infants. And, yet, my…

by Mary Volmer

I spent my teens and twenties frantically achieving. Later, I came to realize that what was required of me was not merely will and effort invested for the sake of some defined objective, but an emotional and spiritual surrender to an unknown good I could not plan for or articulate. I had to learn to strip away ambition, the noble and petty; to stand vulnerable and willing, for once, to listen. This remains an ongoing challenge and harder than I expected. I often fail. It takes more courage for me to be open and vulnerable than to…

What does it mean to love one’s neighbor?

(Joe Raedle/Getty)

“Whoever has two coats is to share it with he who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

— Luke 3:11

From The Checkpoint Podcast (May 2020)

by Mary Volmer

My son, Owen, is lonely. The thought woke and kept me up most of the night. The irony, if you call it that, is that five weeks ago I had been worried that he was over-scheduled and too dependent on other people for company and entertainment. He is an only child, but we live in an apartment in a first year residence hall at Saint Mary’s College. On a normal day he is surrounded by young people who are mostly happy to stop what they’re doing to play and talk with…

by Mary Volmer

Mom grew up the daughter of ranch workers, a hardscrabble, nomadic existence in northern Nevada and California. In fifth grade she moved three times, attending three different schools in and around the head waters of the Humboldt River, a high plateau spotted by sagebrush and marked by wide open skies that felt, some nights, close enough to touch. The one constant, beyond hard physical work, were the books her mother bought on rare trips to town. …

by Mary Volmer

One day I suggested to my husband that “maybe it would be okay if we tried.” I could have been talking about sushi, or skydiving, or lunar travel. Something safe and final. But the man’s face lit up with unambiguous joy.

I use the word “we” lightly here, because let’s face it, my husband and I were not, and would never be, pregnant. I would be pregnant. I would be sick on the couch, eating saltines, staring at a cursor blinking on an unfinished scene of my unfinished novel. The flu, I told my students, hives, pneumonia…

Arc Digital presents short fiction

The small, gabled Victorian had always belonged to Mrs. Thomas, but the hungry young woman lingering by the fence did not know this. She had followed a man to California from the Midwest three years ago, before the war, but when she lost the baby, she gave up looking and began to wander place-to-place. She liked the look of this place — two stories of gray wood in need of paint, a leaf-strewn porch, a garden gone to seed and a bed of thriving roses, three rows deep. She was admiring the roses when she noticed a gnarled old hand…

by Mary Volmer

Mutha Magazine — March 5, 2019

The other day, romping through the living room, stuffed kitty under one arm, you stopped, raised your little chin like Nero and declared: “I am the special one!” Floppy blond hair, brown eyes wide, a pint-sized superhero, minus the cape. The performance should have been funny. It was funny. Your dad and I laughed.

So, why does my chest feel tight? Why this dread? You’re always bring home words, songs and habits (good and bad) from school. And really, shouldn’t every six-year-old have the right to stand among loved ones…

A Fish Story by Mary Volmer

(From a talk given at the 2018 Festival of Women Authors — Berkeley, CA)

This is a fish story:

It’s late May in the sierra foothills, and I’m five years old, determined to catch a fish. My first fish. A big fish. And I’m not going to use my brother’s hand-me-down fishing rod, just my size. No. I’m determined to use my mom’s rod, three times my height, amber brown with a fitted cork handle, and this beautifully complicated casting mechanism, which, can’t be that hard to use. Mom made it look easy.


First Published in Brevity — October 2017

The obsessions of writers and athletes begin the same way, as play. In his memoir, Hoop Roots, John Edgar Wideman explains that his basketball obsession began, “as messing around…throw a ball through a hoop, a fun silly kind of trick at first, until you decide you want to do it better.” He might as well have been speaking about storytelling and writing.

Writing starts as novelty, as messing around, until you decide you want to do it better, and become willing, as Wideman says, to “learn the game’s ABC’s. Learn what it…

Mary Volmer

Author of novels Crown of Dust (2010) and Reliance, Illinois (2016), professor, avid reader, mom, has-been athlete…

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