The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #35: Alex Behr in Conversation with Terri Manning

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In the late 1980s, Terri Manning and her sister, Barbara, lived in one of San Francisco’s painted ladies near Golden Gate Park. This lady, a huge, rambling Victorian with peeling paint, opened its door to touring bands, local musicians, artists, and whomever else needed a place to crash or a home-cooked meal. The Manning sisters’ generosity came naturally to them. In the mid-1970s they grew up as part of a commune in the Sierra foothills and played pranks on the swami when they decided he was morally corrupt.

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Alex: What made your mom choose this particular guru? How did she find him?

Terri: She was studying Transcendental Meditation, which was all the rage back then. She got into the teachings of a guru named Paramahansa Yogananda. Mom learned about him from the Self-Realization Fellowship in Southern California. His followers had a commune in the Sierra foothills, near Grass Valley.

Alex: Did you live on the commune for a while and then leave? Did you actually live at a junkyard? What was the structure like?

Terri: In 1976, I was nine and Barbara was ten. Our mom moved us up to Ananda on the North San Juan Ridge. We lived in tents on their “retreat.” After paying unaffordable rent for tent space there, Mom found a place to squat on the other side of the fence from the Ananda farm on BLM land. Mom worked on the farm, in the dining room, and other assorted jobs as a part of her apprenticeship.

The squat was pretty cool. We each had a tent next to a three-sided, sagging structure that we called our kitchen. I liked living there except that silverfish got into my socks and books and made me crazy. I have a vivid memory of upturning my floorless, canvas tent in a tantrum against the silverfish.

What I did like about living there was the exploring. Barbara and I would snack on manzanita blossoms and berries. The blossoms taste like honey and the berries taste like peanut butter.

As winter approached Mom found a family who needed someone to milk the goats at dusk and take care of the junkyard. It had a 20 x 20 foot cabin at one end. It had no electricity or running water. That was our home through a couple of winters before Mom moved us to town so she could study nursing. We loved living in the junkyard. We would hop from car roof to car roof, tear off antennae to be our light sabers, and throw rocks into the hole of an iron container that to us was the Death Star. (Not the best caretakers, I admit.)

Alex: What made you decide the swami was a jerk? What led up to the birthday “incident”? Can you talk about that and the fake diary?

Terri: We had friends who lived closer to the Ananda farm. We were all in agreement that the commune’s swami was corrupt, wanted money, money, money, and would take trips to Hawaii where he got the commune’s nuns pregnant. We were pubescent and outraged.

One day an announcement came in all the mailboxes at the farm that swami’s birthday would be celebrated, making it clear to give no gifts, only money. When we went to town (Grass Valley), Barbara and I used our savings to get an infantile gift for the swami, something cheap and plastic. We thought it was degrading. We got a card that said something to the effect of “happy birthday to a six year old.” We brought these back to our best friends. We sat around until one of us could take a dump into a gift box. Then we wrapped it and headed down the road to find someone who didn’t know us to deliver it for us. Mom was there for the opening of the gifts and saw swami open it, make a face and quickly push it away. She knew we had done it. We got in trouble for lying about it later, not the act itself.

We also bought a cheap diary during one of our laundry trips to town. The four of us friends, in each of our different handwriting, filled the diary with crude entries, like “Fucked Swami all day.” We counted exactly nine months from the date of the first fuck and wrote about the birth of the fake cursed baby, hoping it would lead to a scandal—but nothing happened. We left the diary in the middle of a well-traversed dusty road and broke its lock so any curious finder could read it. We found the diary weeks later, not far from the spot we left it, this time to the side of the road. I still have this diary among my childhood treasures.

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Terri Manning now works as an interpreter in the Bay Area, and Barbara Manning is a songwriter/musician based in Chico.


Alex Behr received an MFA in creative writing from Portland State University. Her writing has appeared in Oregon Humanities, Portland Review, Propeller, Evil Monito, and other online and print publications. She performed excerpts from her teenage diaries in Mortified in Portland and San Francisco - as a “brain butt.” More from this author →