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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ear I am!

In the grocery store I pushed my cart through the spring garden plant section, gazing at geraniums and shiny plastic hoses as drugged looking as other shoppers nearby, lost in another world, one where the air is full of the possibilities and promises for gardeners that come with the arrival of each spring.

"Talk to me!"  I heard a man in his forties, an employee, playfully demanding me out of   the near coma I had fallen in as I wandered the aisles.  I glanced up to his sparkling eyes and noticed his strong shoulders and slender physique. "Stop!" I said, fumbling for my phone. "Have you ever heard of Sunny and the Sunliners?" I asked, spinning through Spotify pages to locate the song, "Talk to Me," one of the few songs from a South Texas band during the sixties that made the Top 40. In between leafy displays of plants we both listened with all our attention to Sunny Osuna's  corduroy textured voice sing a love song meant for close dancing. Within the first few seconds I was transported to the smooth floors and low lights of the Civic Center ballroom in Laredo, where thousands, not hundreds, of teens went to see Sunny and the Sunliners perform. I felt the thrill of being a part of an enormous wave of the human raza, pretty dancing couples spinning around the ballroom in a slow motion pattern.  When the song on my phone ended I almost thanked the smiling clerk beside me for the dance. 

The second time this week that my sense of hearing surprised me was in a terrible way. I had stepped from my parked car at the college's west parking lot and started down the sidewalk to the walkway at the pedestrian crossing. I suddenly heard the heavy thud-da-thud-thud sound of a human body bouncing on a car hood after being struck. In my mind's eye I imagined a person acrobatically flying across the front of a car from countless stunt man scenes from movies. I ran back to the parking lot and saw a young college student, a girl, getting up from the pavement beside a stopped sedan. The driver got out of the car as I reached them and I noticed he wore nurse's scrubs. The girl was wobbly, gathered her hair and she was in tears but she dusted the dirt from her clothes and said to us she was not hurt. She said she had been hit by the front of the car and was thrown across the left fender landing beside the driver's door. We phoned campus police and EMS came to check her out. She told me that she thought the driver had seen her step onto the pedestrian crossing. 

The third time this week that my ears were there before my other senses was while listening to a sound that shook the earth. I was taking apples to a neighbor's horse about a half mile away. Every few months I buy a giant bag of carrots and share them with Star. He also likes apples and when I have extras or overripe ones, I share them too. I had some apples that had gotten a little old so I decided to walk down to pay Star a visit just before sunset when the March wind kicked up.  Sometimes he hears me from his stable about fifty yards from the gate as I walk down the hill to him and he neighs for me to hurry with his carrots. When I got to his gate I hollered for him. He was no where in sight and because the last time I saw him he looked too thin, I wondered if Star was no longer with us. Still, I called his name once or twice more but the only response was frightened barking from a dog who lives with Star coming from the far south end of the ten acre property. The wind blew harder and the sun was almost down, so I considered leaving the apples inside the gate to return home. I called out his name another two times but the sound didn't carry because of the wind. I waited a few more seconds then heard a faint rumble, like distant thunder and looked hard among the trees to see if I could spot his yellow coat approaching. There between the cedars was a glimpse of his legs and hooves in a full gallop and soon I saw him as he came to the clearing near the gate. He ducked quickly into the stable.  As I continued to call for him he peered out with equal parts fear and curiosity. I waved the apples at him and he trotted toward me. Star was entering springtime well fed with a healthy cover over his ribs.  We shared a few noisy moments of crunching trust.  Star risked closeness to a semi-stranger who shows up sporadically with treats, and me, with my hand carefully extended, with fingers safely out of reach from his vigorous big-as-thread-spool-size teeth, while Star chomped down in strong bite after bite four large apples. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

From Frenemy to Collaborator

Me as feral cat in protective gear. 

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert asserts that creativity is a spirit from another world. She says it is a spirit that seeks a relationship with creative people in order to bring life to ideas and notions. 

The idea that my brain and body would be host to another being, even in the pursuit of something hopeful and good, makes me resort to old habits of looking squinty-eyed and distrustfully at something so foreign. 

My whole life I've never studied creativity but seen it as evasive or as accidental, in the manner of a frenemy, someone you know but whom you criticize as much as you like. 
It's a perfect 50-50 split, equal parts love and doubt. You never know whether she will show up, so you stop inviting her over to the house after school to fly kites or play with the neighborhood kids. 

Where I learned to distrust creativity's on and off reliability was where I also learned to lean into fear, where safety and security scored points over trying something new, the same neighborhood where protective hiding and don't-make-waves also lived.

So, it is very interesting to dust off old patterns and take Gilbert's approach for a test drive. 

Here's how she says creativity works. She says it wants a baby momma. Creativity wants a relationship. If I'm in, then that means I make manifest in the world the stories, videos, instructional methods that creativity brings, as she is unable to give birth to this baby or any other on her own. 

Here's what it looks like. She sits beside you and tries to get your attention. Creativity is the nudge to pursue an idea with just one action today instead of ignoring it again for another four hours of brain-mushing streaming TV. It's the courage to call someone who knows someone who knows an agent for help in sharing Tina Tijerina, my young adult first novel, with an audience. It is the moxie to fill a few pages not sure where anything is going and knowing that "it's only words and words are all I have," to make use of an ancient Bee Gee's song lyric. 

Here's what creativity is not. Creativity is not perfection or mastery, says Gilbert. It is learning to get things done, 'to ship' on time and under budget, instead of stalling. 

Gilbert explains, "The great American novelist Robert Stone once joked that he possessed the two worst qualities imaginable in a writer: He was lazy, and he was a perfectionist. Indeed, those are the essential ingredients for torpor and misery, right there. If you want to live a contented creative life, you do not want to cultivate either one of those traits, trust me. What you want is to cultivate quite the opposite: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass." 

The way I've treated creativity, I might have to start all over, as from the beginning. I haven't even shaken hands with her yet, just circled around like a feral cat. My approach has been good carpentry skills for simple, sound, serviceable English, and sometimes Spanish, to tell a tale that I chase around a room for two or three years like a detective extracting a confession.

But now that I know creativity is waiting at my door to be let in, I'm ready to admit I've been wrong, that the going has been bumpy and that I'm ready for a relationship that's more trusting. 

For all of my life there was no mental model for creativity available to me like the one Gilbert describes. Not when I started journaling and writing poetry, working as a junior high and high school reporter and editor, while working in broadcast journalism, academia, or any of the other jobs I had each requiring writing as a primary skill. 

But now I do and I look forward to a relationship with creativity that is equally satisfying to her as it is to me, host to a mysterious spirit who needs me as much as I need her. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017


This week I took a break from the normal teeth gnashing about how weird the political scene has become.  After several face to face long and animated discussions I feel we will work our way to a stronger place, and that's something to be grateful about. That's a topic I can always use a refresher course on.

I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert on You Tube videos during several rides to and from the college and was reminded about a story she recounted in her book, Big Magic about advice from Werner Hertzog to a filmmaker who wrote to him complaining about how "difficult it is these days to be an independent filmmaker, how hard it is  to find government arts grants, how the audiences have all been ruined by Hollywood, etc.," 

Gilbert recounts that the complaining filmmaker received a letter from Herzog saying, "Quit your complaining. It's not the world's fault that you wanted to be an artist. It's not the world's job to enjoy the films you make, and it's not the world's obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work."

Thanks, Werner. Your words are just what I needed to hear. 

Tomorrow I set out to record an interview with a dear colleague and friend. 

I'll use my Ipad (since I didn't need to steal a camera) with my trusty new Ipad holder that connects safely to my tripod. I'll use my new microphone and my 20 year old still functioning light kit

I'll be recording my friend at her home about the pivotal times in her life, the moments that mean the most in terms of wisdom and importance. I hope to upload the interview to Story Corps to have it archived in the Library of Congress and available to my friend's family for generations to come.  

I am excited and looking forward to the visit tomorrow. I'm reminded of the joys that are inherent to all making, whether it's in designing effective instruction, novel writing, shooting video or editing.