Chimera Song Mosaic
Saturday, June 07, 2003
I have been up to quite a lot lately, although my blog activity would suggest otherwise (or maybe the fact that I have not posted lately would indicate that I have been quite busy and had no time for blogging—whichever). I can’t possibly recreate all of the past week, but suffice to say that I went to Houston yet again (what is my problem?) and also visited my husband’s family in New Braunfels (Texas Hill Country) for a fast paced and festive little niece party (happy birthday Shelby and Molly! I missed Ashley & Sydney’s party last month, so happy birthday to you, too, you little 6-year-olds-not-able-to-read-a-weblog-yet) and some minor familial drama.
I have been trying to reduce the drama in my life ever since I took the online personality assessment thing recommended by Jim Behrle (a long time ago) and consistently got high Histrionic personality (I took the test several times for statistical and investigative reasons). Considering the alternatives (I got moderate Narcissistic a few times), Histrionic is not so bad. It’s just a lot of drama. Hence the drama reduction exercises.
Have you ever been in an argument and said something that you may have seen in a movie once during a scene where two characters are arguing, and then you realized that you repeated the thing just for dramatic effect? Well, I have. Don’t do it.
The question that best fit my personality was, “Do you feel like you have a story to tell?” YES! Sometimes I have too many stories to tell. But I need the practice. Here’s another:
The Story About How Denise Chavez Came to the Valley
I’m going to abbreviate this one for my own selfish reasons. Plus Denise is going to call Marisa in a few minutes and invite us to lunch. I don’t want to miss lunch, so I have to make this short so I can get finished in time.
Why is Denise in the Valley right now? I thought you might ask this one since I always complain about the lack of quality readings here (okay, maybe I haven’t been complaining about this, but I have been thinking it, so I still get to punish myself for those discouraging thoughts and general whining). She is in the Valley attending a summer writers’ institute offered by our local university, which is in the University of Texas system. All this week there will be workshops, panel discussions, and readings featuring Ms. Chavez and two other writers, local author (and current new creative writing faculty member), Rene Saldana (who primarily writes young adult fiction), and Steven Schneider (English Department Chair at UT Pan-American), poet. Sounds good, right? Yes, I went to a reading last night featuring these last two authors, but the problem was the reading was poorly attended because the university didn’t do enough to publicize the event. In fact, when I called two weeks ago, I was told that the panel discussions and all but one of the readings weren’t to be open to the public at all. I think this attitude is very bad. As it is, we hardly ever have readings with published authors. To close it to the public is just wrong.
They are working on this slowly, but not fast enough. If readings happen and people don’t show up, readings won’t happen again in the future. I am going to email my old creative writing class and some other students to try to ensure that more people show up for the readings—especially Denise’s reading, which is this Thursday. She is a marvelous reader. It’s probably more accurate to refer to her as a performer. She has an MFA in Drama in addition to Fiction, and she does her characters in different voices. In February of this year, through much hard work—primarily due to the heroic determination of Marisa (my buddy and twin-Montana-grad) and Jen, our Department Chair (also my buddy), and numerous helpful faculty and staff at our community college (I’m only gushing because their combined efforts were truly gush-worthy)—Denise Chavez—author of short story collection, The Last of the Menu Girls, and recent novel, Loving Pedro Infante—arguably one of the most accomplished Latina writers in the United States today, came down to the Valley where she was welcomed by over 500 community college students, faculty, staff, and members of the community.
It was a fabulous reading, with Denise shifting from character to remarkable character and showing grainy clips from Pedro Infante films. Denise said she loved the fact that the audience understood her jokes, that she didn’t have to explain, that she could speak English and Spanish without having to repeat each word in each language. She was on a small square stage in the middle of our cafeteria (no, it does not hold 500 people—we were crammed into every inch of the room; there were many more people standing than sitting) with kids of all sizes draped across the platform or splayed out on the floor (Denise encouraged this). She did not stay on the platform; she ranged as far down the packed aisle as she possibly could, often passing the cordless microphone across rows so that an audience member could ask a question or give a comment.
And the audience gave just as much as she gave; they loved her. They waited two hours after the show in a line that stretched the length of the cafeteria and then some just to get her autograph or ask her a question or tell her, in person, just how much they loved the performance. One man, a truck driver, told her that he would honk his horn every time he passed through Las Cruces, New Mexico, her home town. This is something that Denise remembers from that February performance and told me last night. I love how much she loves and appreciates her audience.
Why am I telling this story? I guess because I am always so frustrated by the lack of opportunity for writers in the Valley. Some people think that the locals wouldn’t know good writing if they heard it. But of course they would. And every once in a while, they do (get to hear it). I’m writing about this because what happened that February is the exception (as I’ve said, we have very few venues for readers), but instead of the phenomena happening in spite of the anti-intellectual (if it is that) climate in the Valley, I believe that it happened because of it. Such excitement, such generosity, such absolute delight in people of all ages could only have happened here in the Valley—perhaps precisely because we are not used to it. If we could only have more of it (it being serious, yet playful, organized readings), then perhaps we would eventually get bored with it and go back to other, more immediately gratifying forms of diversion (such as movies or baseball). But that won’t happen until we are first saturated with readings. Yea!
Okay, so enough of the fantasizing and back to the frustration. I am frustrated because now that we have gone through the major effort to get a star of this size down to the Valley, we need to keep her with a devoted (and large) audience. The university has not sufficiently publicized these events, in my mind. The second thing that really disappoints me is the way the university acquired Denise in the first place. Marisa Taylor and her cohorts at the community college (including me) enticed Denise down to the Valley for much less money than she is used to getting (hey, we are a community college and don’t have much money for this stuff), and to be honest, Marisa simply didn’t take no for an answer (although she is really nice about it), and now the university breezes in and snaps Denise up like a tasty snack. I don’t at all hold it against her for coming to see them—in fact, I’m glad that she’s here and that we didn’t have to figure out a way to pay for it—but I don’t think she would have been as eager to come if we hadn’t made it such a wonderful experience the first time. Her agent (who is also Sandra Cisneros’s agent) would probably have politely said no to them (Denise is very busy with other projects), and they would have given up.
Maybe I am just totally ignorant about the economies between universities and their local community colleges—I know it’s a relationship that must remain symbiotic to some degree—but I don’t think their behavior was fair. They didn’t need to snub us, and this isn’t the first time they have cabbaged on; in April of this year, due to the efforts of my scrappy office mate, Jenny Clark, political science instructor, our school hosted Michael Parenti, author of Democracy for the Few—and the university invited Mr. Parenti to lunch without inviting Ms. Clark (the coordinator of the whole conference!).
Okay, that is enough venting—for now. We’ll see what chisme Denise offers us at lunch today.
About the Other Readings & Other Alternatives
I went to a reading last night featuring local author, Rene Saldana, and South Texas newcomer, Steven Schneider. Mr. Saldana primarily writes fiction for young people, and I have once before heard him read one of the stories that he read last night. However, I enjoyed it again this time because it’s about a kid in an alternative learning center, and it’s written from the perspective of this student who was almost not a student. Luckily, this kid saves himself just in time before he succumbs to—what? A lifetime in a gang? Jail? Death? A comfortable gangster lifestyle? Surely there are other alternatives; that’s why it’s called “alternative” learning, right? The story is written in an interesting way; it is an assignment or essay about how the student ended up in the center, or maybe the assignment is supposed to be about how he gets out. I like it because student perspectives fascinate me, and even though it is for younger audiences, I also like stuff written from juvenile or emotionally stunted perspectives. Serial killer lit, bring it on.
The second story was new for me, and it was about a young girl who was trying to glean information about her dead mother from her father (struggling to raise a teen daughter without a mom around) and to decide whether or not she should jump from the bridge into the river, “like the boys do.” I totally think she should jump and can’t decide whether her father is right for telling her no or wrong for making her a fearful teenager who will grow into a fearful adult.
Let me side track here and tell you my story: my mom is a major scardy cat. Even though I did a few stunts in my life, like jumping off fences, etc., for the most part, my mom raised another scardy cat. Unfortunately, my ego doesn’t allow me to be a scardy cat, and this has resulted in my trying dangerous drugs, jumping out of airplanes, etc. And this is fine as long as I don’t do it a lot and don’t hurt myself, which I haven’t so far. But when I want myself to do something risky and my self refuses, I get unreasonably mad at myself. Like when I thought I had this out of my system and tried to make myself jump from a cliff into the waters around the Blue Grotto on the island of Capri. I got on top of the cliff, but chickened out, and this still pisses me off to this day. I absolutely must go back to the blue grotto and jump one day, etc., but not now because I have to save my money (and be relatively sure that I will actually do it).
I married a man who does not even have a reasonable amount of fear to keep him out of trouble. When we went tandem sky diving for his 25th birthday, I had to go first because I knew if Lance went first, I would chicken out because of course psycho Lance will try anything.
Keep in mind that I am not even close to an adrenalin junkie. I don’t even know what that means, not really. I have too much Mom-inspired scardy-cattedness to do anything risky on a regular basis (except, of course, drive my car, duh!). And I don’t go for the rush, but rather the challenge of forcing a scardy cat like me to do something rash. When I sky dove (?) and bungee-jumped, I was terrified up to the point of committing; then I felt totally free—I didn’t really think anything bad would happen, and what could I do about it now, anyway? Maybe this is the same feeling the adrenaline junkies have, but for different reasons—or maybe for the same reasons.
So going back to the story, I thought the Dad should have let her jump because if he succeeded in scaring his offspring away from doing something rash (an adaptive success for a parent), she would never have the guts to try something challenging in the future. People who don’t consider jumping don’t have this problem. But those that do find themselves immediately screwed.
So the young girl goes and talks to her grandmother, la macha. This is not your typical grandma. She lets the girl talks it through, tells her a few stories about her dead mother and her own rebellion, and finally says, “If you want to jump off that bridge, you do it. If that’s the only thing that will make you happy, you have to do it.” Now the girl has permission because this grandmother has authority over the girl’s father.
Only the girl doesn’t do it. She thinks about the legacies that have been passed down to her, and she thinks about how she is becoming a woman, and all of these thoughts cumulate in her contentment with the decision to follow her father’s wishes and not jump off the bridge. I didn’t write the story, so I’m not explaining it well enough to let you see how this decision came to her and whether or not it is the right one. The way Mr. Saldana writes it, you almost believe her. Almost.
There’s this part of me that thinks she will never give up the bridge. It will follow her everywhere after that and will come to represent her failures in life, small or large. If she was going to give up the bridge, she should have done it before she imagined herself flying through the air, just like the boys, and swimming through the weeds, triumphant. There are people who give themselves tests of worthiness, and I suspect they do it throughout their lives, until they have succeeded more times than they have failed, or until they do not succeed any more—or until they get put on medication (maybe there are other alternatives—I don’t have all the answers).
It’s a beautiful story, but the way Saldana writes the ending, it’s like he thinks her world will be better now; the crisis is over; she will become a woman. The real crisis for that woman is just beginning, I think. I don’t think the story should end happily, or if it does, it should end in flight.
I also heard a poet read, but I can’t write about that now because I have to go to lunch soon, and I have too much to say because obviously I have a lot to say about poetry (or maybe I don’t have a lot to say if you read my earlier entry). Ciao! Bring on the chisme!