Published on October 13th, 2023 | by Manuela Gomez Rhine0
Tell Your “Truest Truth”: Carla Rachel Sameth Talks About ONE DAY ON THE GOLD LINE
I first met the writer and poet Carla Rachel Sameth more than twenty years ago when our paths crossed as single parents living in Pasadena. We immediately bonded as mothers raising our only children—she a son and me a daughter—in the most inclusive and accepting environments we could create, as well as writers pursuing our literary goals amidst busy lives. Over the past two decades, Carla has become a writer and poet known for bringing a fresh, raw, and often humorous insight into difficult subjects from racism and violence to addiction and police brutality, but also into the joys of having children and creating family that may not be considered “traditional.”
Her insights and personal journeys culminated in the memoir, One Day on the Gold Line (first published in 2019 with a reissue in 2022 by Golden Foothills Press), which through linked essays explores issues of racism, addiction, economic hardships, single parenting, blended families, and social injustice. The book’s beating heart is Carla’s desire to have a big, happy family, a mission that has brought her joy, yes, but also heartbreak. Pregnant a total of eight times, Carla has suffered five miscarriages; terminated two; and had one child, her son, called Raphael in the memoir. – Manuela Gomez Rhine
Manuela: I’ll start with the question that all writers who are also parents must answer for themselves: How does being a mother inform your writing life?
Carla: My outlook as a writer is framed by my identify as a 64-year-old queer Jewish woman, a mother of a Black son, and wife of a trans man. All the vulnerability, joy and strength that comes with those roles makes its way into my work.
Manuela: A writer myself, I’m amazed at the way you’ve written your way through motherhood, almost in real time. Rather than take years to pull back and develop a long-range perspective, you jump right into the trenches and write as real life action unfolds. That takes incredible bravery because the wound hasn’t always healed before you sit with the pain and unleash the emotions through words. You work with the rawness that I, with more of a journalistic background, find courageous.
Carla: I started working on pieces of the memoir when I first wanted a child and had many miscarriages. Early in the process, as I was writing separate essays, I was encouraged by an established author to write a book-length memoir. At the time, being a single working mom to a young son, it seemed like a lot. But she gave me the idea of writing a memoir in essays, which my MFA thesis advisor later encouraged. The things I worried about when Raphael was young were, for instance, lead poisoning. But not that my son would grow up to be an addict. When in his teens he started using drugs and it became a struggle, I wrote my way through it. I also read a lot. Both were lifelines. I was looking for other families that looked like us. Queer, multi-racial, blended unblended, single parent. I read books by people whose kids also struggled with addiction, trying to find something that reflected my experience, such as Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff, and the books by his son including Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines. I ultimately wrote the book I would have liked to read at the time. By writing the book, with the reflection required for memoir, I was able to sort through what I had experienced. This gave me the insight to see where I drew my strength from to press on. My hope is that this memoir offers some solace and solidarity and finds its way to someone who also seeks to see some part of themselves reflected in the pages.
Manuela: Writing about your only child, your son, is a topic you return to again and again. What are you hoping to understand about this relationship?
Carla: There have been two constants in my life. My writing and my son. A lot of the creativity over the years has come through the understanding of motherhood and the imperfection of it. Learning to accept the imperfection and vulnerability inherent in the role. But it’s also the source of my greatest joy. Writing does seem to revolve around those extremes of joy and awe and trauma and vulnerability and in a lot of ways motherhood encompasses that too.
I have talked to writers who have said their relationships with their children have suffered or been challenged because of writing about them. I do feel a sense of responsibility and a sense of guilt at times whether it’s really the right thing to do, though I have repeatedly gone back (to him) for permission. He encouraged me to write the book from the start, with the hope that others might benefit from our experience.
Manuela: We both are mothers to only children. I have always loved having just one child. I know you had hoped for more children, but you too now see the beauty of this one-on-one parent-child relationship.
We talk about how difficult it is to be a single parent. We talk about the intensity but it’s usually framed in a negative way. I do believe that you need a community; that’s true. But there is a beautiful intensity that happens between one parent and one child that needs to be talked about more. There’s a special relationship with an ability to be spontaneous that doesn’t happen when you have two parents and one child. Or two children one parent. There was a period of time when I was in a blended family and had a step-daughter about the same age as Raphael. But he still identifies as a single child.
Manuela: When you were in your fifties you left your own business in PR to earn an MFA. How did that life-defining leap further impact and define your relationship with your son? As well, he not only watched his mother commit to a writer’s life after working for nonprofits, then having your own business for many years, he also was part of your decision to marry a woman after being married to his dad.
Carla: Raphael is an amazing young man. Loving and tender and funny and creative. When I got ready to write a book and go to grad school, my son was very encouraging. I thought I would get my MFA when he went to college. Instead he went to a recovery house. Later he encouraged me and gave me permission to write about him.
When the manuscript was accepted for publication I gave him a copy to read. He said he would but I don’t believe he ever read it in its entirety. He has heard portions at book readings. But he’s never actually picked it up and read it front to back, that I know of.
I asked again recently, “How do you feel about me writing and publishing poems that you are in? Do you want to read them first?” He said, “Yes, you should continue writing and, no, I don’t need to see them first.”
As for my decision to marry a woman I loved, from the time when he was little he understood that two people can be in love of the same gender. He was at first excited that he would have two moms. He wasn’t prepared for the amount of backlash when he began telling people that he was getting a stepmother and stepsister. At that point gay marriage wasn’t legal in the U.S. He didn’t understand if it was okay, why were people not in favor.
Manuela: How do you manage to revisit trauma in order to write the truth of it?
Carla: The story I tell in my memoir is my “truest truth.” Because our individual memory is imperfect I’ve relied on my writings over the years: journals, videos, letters, essays, conversations with family members, friends, colleagues and old classmates to help flesh out the memories I have summoned. The dialogue and scenes were reconstructed to the best of my ability. Events were compressed or reordered as needed to fit the story lines. The names of some people and places were changed. Also, trauma can cause further fragmentation of memory, making it more elusive. Sometimes writing in alternative forms—such as several essays in this book—helps one to excavate this material.