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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Channels of My Imagination

We watched television last night that made me wish for more.

I was asked to be a judge for Cinefestival this year. The task of a festival judge is to view and make critical decisions scoring projects by the strength of the story editing direction etc.

It is a most imperfect process but one that is necessary when you need to assign values. Filmmakers’ long months of complex work researching and building their productions are reduced to points, quantifying by necessity the creative work that, thrillingly and by definition, escapes number assignments.

We saw stories of homegrown music and art that grow like cactus around here, with only a little rain and total disregard from mainstream, commercial mass media.

What is missing in the current rain storms of media flowing to us from the Internet, satellites and cable that are currently replacing the managed mainstream offerings that television has had for 50 years is a curator. Without a curator, we are blind in a storm and thus we may find we are going in circles instead of forward. Luckily, last night we had a curator, who selected the submissions for us to judge, festival director, Manuel Solis. He is busy organizing the 40th edition of the indie festival at The Guadalupe Theater July 5-8 this summer.

Watching the lineup of documentaries last night reminded me how much I miss local creative documentary productions. I imagined how amazing it would be if we had a steady supply of locally-sourced productions:  Imagine a Narciso Martinez channel beside a Neil deGrasse Tyson channel. A Sandra Cisneros channel beside a Chris Rock standup comedy channel. A mad mix of mainstream and mini-stream.  In this way, the media we consume would be a well-proportioned plate of delicious fresh food, a balanced diet that helps us grow stronger in ideas, actions and identity, looking inward as well as outward. 

There needs to be an app for that.

I need an algorithm to find more works about our city and region.

But first, before that, I need an algorithm that supports local artist to create more videos about our city and region.

And before that, I need an algorithm that, more importantly, sparks in the minds of artists notions about local and regional topics to be explored creatively with outcomes or endings unknown: A journey taken for whatever insight and learning may be revealed in the process.

At the very start, I need an app for video documentaries that ask more questions than provide answers. Documentaries whose arc evolves in the process of interviews and the editing timeline as much is in the minds of the producers.

I need an algorithm that sorts the entertainment available in the lineup that comes in from the current curtain of rain. One that promotes local and regional productions and collects some for us to pick and view some nights on the couch, so we can learn more about this place we live in, drive across and spend our lives drawing our breath from.

I had a taste of that future last night.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Amá!! Amá!!


It is the week before our first performance and I am suddenly shy and have developed grave doubts about this play.

For the past six months, six of us have been mining our memories of our mothers. It’s been like examining old clothes out of a long-forgotten closet. Some of the clothes no longer fit, others were just a fad so you toss those aside and then there are the true finds, the ones you are tempted to wear again but when you try them on their seams disintegrate.

There have been tears. What to do about these fears that I’m breaking some pact I don’t remember making about ancient family secrets?

It has been so long since I’ve talked with her I nearly don’t recognize her voice. I don’t hear her like I might hear someone standing beside me; the listening is going on somewhere unmapped, between inside of me where memory resides and somewhere unknown.

Keep going!

Are you sure you wouldn’t mind? You sure it’s OK?

No le aflojes!
Don’t let go!

And that’s how I got my permission, no, my blessing from my
Amá more than 30 years after her death.

The weeks and months of writing and rehearsal were spent hacking at memories overgrown with weeds. I wasn’t alone finding my ankles caught in the thick grass between what was and what was remembered. At several points I tripped and felt stunned at the loss of balance and shock of being suddenly fallen.

What the hell am I doing standing in front of strangers in my metaphorical underwear?

For what purpose are these long forays into lives and lessons so long ago completed?

But are they over? Doesn’t my own life and that of all who knew and loved
Amá still carry within reverberations of her laughter, echoes of her words and the heat of still palpable loving embraces?

Oh my God! If she’s that much alive, then I’m sure in a heap of trouble because she is sure to be pissed as can be about me telling strangers about her and her life! Oh my God!

So I went from behind one skirt in my fear to behind another.

But I heard her clearly. She said:

Andale! No seas gallina!
Don’t be a chicken!  Get on with it.

I got out from behind the skirts of the ghosts of my own making and saw what my reasons had been from the start:

To tell my mother’s story; mine, not that of my siblings or anyone else’s; that’s for them to do not me.

To tell the geography of her life on the borderlands.

To tell about how her life was touched by three centuries.

To tell about her challenges after dad‘s death and the way she finally found her self again in the rubble of her life.

To tell the story of a woman who loved perfection, yet who fell short of it in many ways. 
Amá did meet her high standards, however, in the questions that counted, though some remain unanswered.

Did she do her very best?

Did she love with her whole heart ?

Where, after all these years, were the pliers, scissors and scotch tape whenever she barked at me to run and get them for her?
Amá before her death might’ve minded my metaphorical underwear demonstration, but not Amá 35 years later. She has grown along with the rest of us she assures me. And then, as quickly as she arrived, she fades into the shadows offstage after—could this be possible? A Carol Burnett tug of an earlobe—to wish me well, and to remind me as only a mother can, to tell her story and mine loud and proud.

Friday, March 23, 2018

"Buzz!! Buzz!! Resume Viewing Buzz!! Buzz!!"

Imagine a future where the partnership we have with our screens (black mirrors) evolves to the next level. 

In the second episode of the first season of Black Mirror, the screens of our media are no longer held in our hands, they are the walls of our homes, projecting animated images more bucolic than nature can deliver. Think Disney. 

And who powers these lighted screens of our lives? You guessed it, we do. On gym exercise bikes we pedal for hours each day to stay in shape and power the grid, earning points like salaries which are then spent on time in bed, toothpaste, food and screen choices. Think Time Warner.

In the future the series depicts, it costs points which we pedal like hamsters to accumulate in order to sleep. Worse, and this is the gift of the episode, it even costs points to decide to close your eyes and not consume a program you might find offensive. Alarms sound and the screen blinks the warning "Resume Viewing!"

The story shows the protagonist struggling but sadly coming full circle to also fall into the trap that took his girlfriend, entering the entertainment slave class to become perform for the programs that distract the peddling slave class.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Artist Holds Up the Black Mirror

The first episode of the Netflix series, Black Mirror, had me at hello. 
I'm so grateful to the friend who recommended I try it. P.S. Not family friendly.

Here are five things about the episode that we watched last night that will make me keep watching.

1. I loved Twilight Zone as a kid, so my first impulse was to think this was a reboot. It's not. There are so many layers more that I see just how much the medium of TV has truly evolved. 

2. The story is about technology and its power. The storyteller is the artist, a painter living in London, who is able to show us what he sees in a way few of us could imagine.  

3. The public is fickle; the public is powerful. We are the public.  That's a lot to think about.

4. The episode is less about a pig than it is about people. This is us.

5. Our screens are extensions of ourselves, our senses and attention. See McLuhan.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Brainwashing by TV?

Does TV influence us? There are truckloads of variables to consider in answering this question: How much TV do we watch, what is the content of what we watch, what do we give up to watch it, who is there or not there to discuss its programs and themes. It's like asking Do friends influence us? It depends.

Does taking in a hefty diet of Fox News and conservative talk radio shows impact how we view the world? There are lots of variables that enter here, so it's not a yes or no kind of question. But the question takes an interesting twist when it's seen through the eyes of a loving daughter worried about her father's personality changing into an hardline conservative who she barely recognizes.

Amazon Prime's documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad   made me think that the questions the filmmaker explores may end up in the same heap of questions that have evidence to support opposite views, for example about video games or violent TV programs and their impact on people. 

There are truckloads of data to support the pro and con of media and its impact on people, but on the Fox News and Radio Talk show influence explored in the documentary, I side with the filmmaker, remembering Dr. George Gerbner's Mean World Theory (Cultivation Theory) and the communication research that he he pioneered. 

Outside of the filmmaker's experience and the interviews of her subjects, what emerged as equally important is the evidence she presents about the history of eliminating the Fairness Doctrine and the funding of conservative media outlets and think-tanks that undergird the media landscape that TV and radio currently occupy. Still many questions, such as what similar inroads have been made to make fear the driving force on the Internet and the business models currently in place there?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Rock Art Rancher

If the study of people is the definition of anthropology,  Brantley Baird, without the benefit of academic degree, is a top- notch anthropologist.

The weathered, careful speaking and listening lanky octogenarian with a gentle demeanor is a born and bred Arizona cowboy. When he married 60 years ago he began his work on the ranch belonging to his wife's family now known as the Rock Art Ranch.

In the vastness of the Arizona desert and canyons, his study of people began with reminders that the family ranch had been home to other families, perhaps hundreds of them, both in both recent history, and, as he would come to learn, from more than 9000 years ago. 

Brantley's study of people began with finding shards pots bowls cups and other hunting tools. As Brantley went about hunting and tending to livestock, he came across areas on the ranch where evidence of homes from the past emerged after gullies were washed in flash floods. It was Brantley's careful observation that two sites were uncovered on the ranch where Navajo, Hopi and Anastazi had cooked, reared families, hunted, traded and used weapons,  playing their corresponding roles in defending or expanding their tribe's territories.

Over the years, Brantley spotted on the ranch many museum quality examples of native American family life and it's remainders. The bowls, cups, utensils, and tools tell a story of people who raise children worked hard for their living using your resources and held religious ceremonies. 

Canyon walls along a creek on the ranch preserve hundreds of petroglyphs of people, animals and inscrutable symbols showing us humans' first written communication.

Brantley's learned from contemporary Navajos who have helped him restore two hogans or Navajo houses on the ranch, one for men and another for women. He showed us the door which always faced the sunrise to direct prevailing eastern winds through the roof opening and remove cooking fire smoke. But there was another purpose for the hogan's roof opening. He pointed to the square of sunlight on the pounded dirt floor of the hogan and told us we are watching the world's oldest clock and calendar. The sun's path across the sky told people the time of day and when during the seasons to plant and harvest crops.

Brantley has also learned from scientists at museums and universities who visit and conduct digs on the ranch's two principal sites, one residential and the other a kiva used for ceremonial worship and prayer. 

What fuels this 80 year old cowboy's lifelong interest in the preservation of native culture?  One clue is family. His grandmother was Native American and he and his wife fostered a Navajo girl. 

No one knows if Brantley's legacy with will be continued with his kids and grandchildren, but at 80 years, he is going strong as a one man Guide and museum curator of artifacts that he literally stumbled into through marriage and by working cattle on his family's ranch.

Brantley inherited this ranch in the Arizona desert, but has paid back his good fortune with hard work and, one shard and pot at a time, retrieving from the desert and the sands of centuries, pieces of history to preserve and to share with others.

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mesa meanderings

A mesa is a table and it is also an elevated landform standing above the floor of the desert. For the Acoma it is also a home.

Yesterday at the Acoma village atop a mesa in western New Mexico, our guide explained his tribe's history to us tourists. We had driven off I 40 about 20 miles then boarded a small bus to climb to the top of the mesa. 

As he led us past 900 year old homes where 35 families live here year-round. No electricity, no running water. Today there are soar powered communal showers and restrooms installed at the edges of the mesa. He told us of the move the Acoma made centuries before from a mesa nearby. A storm destroyed the steep stairs to the top of the mesa and the tribe sent out scouts in four directions to find their new home, where we now stood. 

Children sped past us running to greet our guide with leaps and hugs. He greeted them warmly and led us through the village telling us about Acoma history and the contact with the Spanish military and religious. He spoke of the cruelty of the slavery the Europeans had imposed to build the Catholic Church here, but he included the education and care received by the Acoma people from the Franciscans in particular. 

The mesa, like an island in an ocean of sky and endless desert, gives its people protection and a place to call their own. The survival of its residents through centuries of storms and invasion from foreign forces were reminders of the timeless qualities that drive our existence, such as faith and perseverance. 

As we ended our tour, residents set up tables outside their homes to sell us samples of their beautiful pottery and jewelry. I had decided to leave my money in the car 350 feet below, so instead of shopping I scanned the horizon for the last time this visit before hopping back on the bus.

I was lost in the stillness and beauty of the moment when I was abruptly returned to the 21st century. A movement over my head caught my eye and I turned to see an Acoma man stretching his arm up, holding a smartphone and waving it in the air to catch a signal for the credit card purchase he was processing.