Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mi Vecino, Lindo y Querido

About twenty years ago I hopped on a plane with a friend and we went to visit his grandmother. It was just after Christmas – coming up on Epiphany. We stayed for a while with his grandmother and his mother, who was already there taking care of her. I met some aunts of his and a couple of cousins. We got on a bus and went into a town in the mountains and spent a couple of days there. Then we went to a ranch with his family and celebrated Epiphany, or as they called it, El Dia de los Reyes Magos.

My friend's family is from San Luis Potosí, SLP, Mexico. We had flown into Mexico City, taken our lives in our hands in a taxi that took us to the first bus to SLP to visit Abuela, and after a few days taken another bus to Guanajuato. I loved that city. It seems like it was a Pre-Columbian town because I didn't see the typical Roman layout to the city. San Luis Potosí has streets and avenues running N/S and E/W, with central parks and official building surrounding them. Guanajuato has narrow streets that go this way and that, curving up and around hills and never crossing each other again, so that if you took a wrong turn you'd have to just turn around, because there didn't seem to be much in the way of going around a block to get back to where you started. But, there were ancient buildings that are several stories high because they are built on the side of a mountain, so there are several "ground floor" entrances. My friend took me to an area where there were booths serving food, and as soon as we walked by we were assaulted by an orchestra of "Psst! Psst!" with women waving us to their booths. My friend was the expert and walked around until he found one that suited us, not responding to their calls of what they were serving, but waiting to decide which was best. It's a good thing, too, because I would have caved at the first person to demand that I eat at her booth – not that her food wouldn't have been delicious but I probably wouldn't have had the pollo con mole that I was looking for. My friend was prepared for how pushy they are and he knew that the proper response was to not respond.

A few years later I decided that I needed to see Mexico again. So, I put some clothes into a bag and boarded a Greyhound that took me to Laredo where I switched to a Mexican bus line that took me to Monterrey. At the border, before I was allowed to enter Mexico, the Mexican officer interviewing me asked me for identification. I produced my Texas driver license. He told me that I should either bring a passport, or both a driver license and a birth certificate. Then he told me to enjoy myself. I spent several days walking the city, visiting the mercados, buying food and art. Monterrey is close enough that I could just go for a few days, then when I felt homesick I came back, with every intention of visiting again.

In 2005 the police chief in Nuevo Laredo (the Laredo on the Mexican side of the border) was gunned down on his first day on the job. A quote from CNN reads, "The police chief of the violent Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo has been missing for days, and state authorities are trying to find him..." The violent town of Nuevo Laredo. This is a city where I had gone with friends to have margaritas and to shop. This is a town that is two hours and 19 minutes from my home city of San Antonio.

In 2006 The US began building a fence along the border between Mexico and the US, focusing on sites of known illegal crossings.

In September of 2014, 43 students went missing in Iguala, a town in the Mexican state of Guerrero. (A painfully appropriate name.) They are presumed dead and the town's mayor and his wife have been arrested. They were among Mexico's most wanted while they were fugitives (in Mexico City) after fleeing Iguala directly following the kidnappings. The 43 students – who had arrived to hold a protest at a conference in the town, held by the mayor's wife – had been arrested by the Iguala police, then transferred to another police department, which then handed them over to a criminal organization. The students were transported to a dump and the ones who did not die en route were interrogated and then killed. Finding the students turned up a mass grave with other murders, all suspected to be done at the command of the mayor's wife.

Now I listen to our politicians fight for stronger border security, harsher treatment of illegal aliens and a general isolationist sentiment with regards to our neighbor to the south. And I just think, What happened? I know what happened – drugs happened. An illegal drug market in the US that is being supplied through Mexico, but more to the point, the violence, corruption and instability that goes along with such a lucrative illegal market. It's the Prohibition era mobs, but on a grander scale. But, still I wonder. We are in the Middle East toppling governments and rebuilding them. Why can't we do anything about our neighbors? Why build a fence and take such harsh action against illegal immigrants who are fleeing such a hostile environment? Why can't we address the source of the problem? I'm not presuming to know how to do this, but I'm not a diplomat or part of the State Department.

When I read social media I find so much hate. So much hate for illegal immigrants. So much vehemence about border security and building this God-forsaken fence between the US and Mexico. Again I think, why? Why can't we go to the source of the problems? There is a civil war going on in Mexico that its government doesn't seem able to keep up with. If we can send soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, can't we do something about the country that is two hours and nineteen minutes from my home city of San Antonio, TX?

Rather than fighting Mexico, I wish, I wish that we could have a relationship with them like we had before. A relationship where I could hop on a bus and go to Monterrey for a few days and visit their artisans, eat their food an talk with their people. There are Mayan ruins that I haven't gotten around to visiting. There are cities that I haven't visited. I need to brush up on my Spanish by talking with people there. And that's what they are; they are people. When I read some of the comments on social media I wonder if those commenters realize that they are talking about human beings. It's easy to hide beind the screens of our computers and our devices. But, if we could put those things aside and look around we would see people, people who are trying to make the best of a bad situation, trying to make a better life for themselves and for their children – just like us. I long to talk with these people and build a closer relationship between their country and mine. I long to do this with every fiber of my being.

--e A r n i e


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Glass Is Laughter

From The Writer's Workshop

I love coming to this workshop for a few reasons. I love to feel that I've written something worthwhile. I love to see my writing progress into something better. Feedback on my writing – to not only be able to practice, but to sense that I have actually connected with people around me. And, almost more than anything else, I love to see the people around me progress, to watch them develop their own voice and style.

On June 9, 2015 I wrote the below in an exercise on metaphors.

Glass is laughter. Walking through a store with vintage furnishings, the crystal is always in a cabinet with a perfectly clean mirror as a backdrop. It's the promise of good times with friends. It's the assurance that it has already lived through happiness and parties. Laughter from another room that piques your interest, makes you want to be a part of the fun. That is what it is to see vintage crystal displayed in a store.

Glass is fragile. The tinkling sound that it makes when it hits a surface – the floor, the counter or table. The frozen moment when everyone around stops and looks. The unbearable expression on the face of the person responsible, held on their face until the noise stops and the echos in their head die down. It's this same sound heard from another room, the hilarious quiet that ensues and the knowledge that one person has guilt written on their face and everybody else is looking at it. Nobody would bother to look at the broken pieces.

Glass is laughter. It is faceted shapes hung strategically in a window to paint rainbows across a wall at a certain point every day – rainbows dancing and jolting from ceiling to wall, across pictures and furniture. A small child's large brown eyes watching in silent amazement at the ballet where before there was just a wall.

--e A r n i e


Saturday, March 14, 2015

What Is a Weed?

There is a spot in our back yard that seems like it could use some ground cover. It's a space that's rather enclosed between a building and some bricks lining the path from the back gate, around said building and up to the back door of the house, which is the only door that's ever used for some reason I haven't been able to figure out. Anyway, we bought some English ivy because I love it and it's like a tiny dream come true to have a house with a spot that I can put English ivy in. I've been warned not to let it crawl up the building or the tree, but it will be difficult for me. I long to have an ivy-covered wall so much that I could burst. I could melt. I could write a cozy mystery.

So, I'm pulling out the weeds that are in this space and I begin to wonder why. I mean, we were at the hardware megamart in the garden section and asking the wonderfully helpful lady about plants that could grow there, because the space gets a glimpse of sunlight in the morning and that's about it as far as direct light goes. But why? Why are we concerned about finding a plant to grow in a space that is already completely covered in plant? I asked Nameless about this and he said, much as I expected, "They're weeds."

"But, what is a weed?" I pondered. I mean, who's to say that this plant is a good plant to have covering your ground and this plant is not? It seems to me that in a field of cotton, a rosebush would be a weed. So, why are we (myself included) determined to extricate this plant that is thriving, only to replace it with one that we can only hope will do well? In answer to my spoken question, 'What is a weed?, Nameless said, "In other words, you throw it away." Well, that's that.

The plant in question is rather vine-like. Small leaves and tiny white flowers. When I pulled it up, I could grab handfuls and it came up like a carpet – only in a few places was it connected to the ground. It was easy to pull out because it's been raining so much. (Man, with this drought going on, did I ever think I'd write those words?) There was a smattering of other weeds in there, but mostly it was this one type. Clearly, this plant was suited to this environment. I see weeks, months and years of pulling this little guy out of my English Ivy bed.

I've put a few pictures below of the weed in question. It's not such a bad looking plant. I've pulled most of it out. I clearly underestimated how many English ivy plants I'd need to begin with, so I'll work on the project some more later. All of that to say why I have not included a picture of my English ivy bed. Right now it's solid ground with a few sprigs of ivy sticking out here and there. But, I was assured that it grows fast.

Yours truly,

e A r n i e













Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

So, to get me back into reading and writing I looked online for a challenge. I came across an oh-so-popular challenge by The Book Riot. She has some interesting categories, the challenge being to read one from each category in 2015. The link is here, if you're interested: http://bookriot.com/2014/12/15/book-riot-2015-read-harder-challenge/

As I was reading through the categories it struck me that I've already read books from so many of them. Out of 24 I could name books from 17 of them, without repeating authors. I mean, Agatha Christie alone could be several of them, so I made it a point to not use the same author twice. Sometimes the same book fit more than one category, sometimes the nature of the categories lend themselves to this. (LGBT and Indie Presses, for instance.) I think it's a very well-rounded list that took some thought and I appreciate the time and effort that she put into it.

For the challenge I'll start with the ones I haven't already read from and go from there. If it's a category I haven't read by now, then it's probably one that I'm not interested in. But then I suppose that's the point – to reach outside of our interests and try new things.

These are the categories, and the books that I've already read in them.

CategoryTitleAuthor
A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25The Mysterious Affair at StylesAgatha Christie
A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65News of a KidnappingGabriel Garcia Marquez
A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people)For the Relief of Unbearable UrgesNathan Englander
A book published by an indie pressRolling the R'sR. Zamora Linmark
A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQBecoming a ManPaul Monette
A book by a person whose gender is different from your ownThe Face of a StrangerAnne Perry
A book that takes place in AsiaRed AzaleaAnchee Min
A book by an author from AfricaThe Power of OneBryce Courtenay
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans,Aboriginals, etc.)The Bean TreesBarbara Kingsolver
A microhistory
A YA novelThe Prince of MistCarlos Ruiz Zafón
A sci-fi novelFahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury
A romance novel
A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decadeHow Late It Was, How LateJames Kelman
A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)WickedGregory Maguire
An audiobookDeath of an Expert WitnessP.D. James
A collection of poetry
A book that someone else has recommended to youPatron Saint of LiarsAnn Patchett
A book that was originally published in another languageThe History of the Siege of LisbonGabriel Garcia Marquez
A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind (Hi, have you metPanels?)
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)Any of the 413,417,491,274 mysteries I've read
A book published before 1850
A book published this year
A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Print Fired

Last week as we were picking up clay at Armadillo Clay & Supplies and we stumbled upon an exhibit next door called Print Fired. We came across Mary Fischer, whose work is there and who was keeping shop for the morning. She told us about an exhibit that would be happening next week (yesterday) at Flatbed Press called Flatbed Contemporary Print Fair 2015. It was an exhibit specifically for printers, with artists from across the country who use variety methods.

So, this week instead of hitting our regular thrift stores on Saturday morning, we made our way to Flatbed Press. There we saw Debbie Little Wilson. She's a printer friend of ours and she's fabulous in so many ways. And I'm in love with her chickens. We saw a couple of demonstrations and saw some incredible printing. I even got to make a print of a frog. 















Today, we went to a demonstration put on by none other than the same Mary Fischer. She prints, but on clay, which is what the whole Print Fired exhibit is about. She has traveled to Hungary and learned a method of printing from a photograph onto clay, which was the theme of her demonstration today, assisted by the fabulous Debbie Little Wilson. 

I have had printers explain to me how they do what they do and they always get to a point at which what they're saying translates in my mind to "Something magic happens" because I just can't get it. I listen, and I understand and then they cross a line and my puzzled mind stops. It just can't. This weekend, though, I was able to get it. I have an uncomfortable, sneaky suspicion that I witnessed a different process than that which has always eluded me. The part that puzzles me is when they explain that oil and water don't mix. I know this, but that doesn't explain how you take a flat surface and put oil and water onto it, then place it onto a piece of paper and come out with a beautiful print with neither oil stains or watermarks. But, I am proud to say that I understand solarplates and how to print with them. I haven't done it, but I've witnessed it and I understood. At no point did my poor little mind look bewildered and have to insert "something magic happens" into the part that it couldn't grasp.

Below is an album of the pictures I took at the demonstration. The images are not very good because the light wasn't great and I wasn't close, but I think it's interesting enough to overlook that.

Slide Show
Click to see Album

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Writing Characters

So writing. I don't make my living at it. I don't pursue making a living at it, or even promoting myself. But, I do enjoy writing. I've been thinking about – and working on – fiction. It seems that it should be easier. I don't have to write what actually happens; anything that I want to happen can happen. Narrowing the field from infinity to the scope of a novel or short story is a little more difficult than it seems it ought to be.

There's also the issue of making it interesting. If it doesn't hold a person's attention then there's really no point in writing fiction. From my years of reading I would say that the key to this is really in the characters themselves. A writer can make errors in time, accidentally have contradictions or other problems that editing should have caught, but if the characters are real and engaging, then the work will still hold my attention. The character himself can be a bore, but as long as he's handled by a competent writer then he can still be interesting.

This is where my problem lies. I want my characters to be happy, but then they end up being flat. I find myself making my characters react to situations the way I would like to react, and that's not particularly believable, nor is it particularly interesting. It borders on preachy if I'm not careful.

A character should have a past, even if that past isn't discussed in the work. But, I'm too kind to mine. I don't want to subject them to a childhood spent fending for themselves because their parents were crack addicts who didn't have enough strength to put their children before their addictions. I don't want her to have been lured by a high school hottie into a small room just to have him cajole her into letting him touch her, and then force himself on her for his own pleasure, only to discard her once he'd relieved himself. Or for him to have sat at a lunch table in Jr. High, focussing on his cold sandwich while other students ridiculed him, laughing among themselves at who could say the most hurtful thing, standing behind him with their mouth close to his ear almost shouting, "Why are you here? Nobody wants you here, just go somewhere else. Can't you see that nobody wants you here?" All the while he can only look at his cold sandwich and eat it at fast as he could, his face burning with shame. Knowing from experience that looking around the cafeteria for an ally would be pointless, knowing that even the teachers would not intercede.

The things that make a person interesting and real are not just lovely experiences and coddled childhoods. Experience makes a person who they are, and experience isn't always pleasant. A well-adjusted, perfectly mannered man who respects everybody around him and handles adversity with a calm, pleasant demeanor before washing his hands, drying them neatly on a towel, which he hangs on the rack where it belongs, followed by a cup of tea in an immaculate house among delightful friends is not exactly riveting. People have faults and faults come from and cause unpleasant experiences. For a person who has spent the better part of his adult life being kind to others, creating characters who have suffered is not easy. But, if the goal is to write fiction, then the requirement is to have characters who have lived in the world. My biggest challenge so far.



Monday, January 19, 2015

Thrift Stores As an Escape

It's been a while since I've posted here - mostly because I've lacked inspiration. I suppose the lack of a strong theme here doesn't help. I don't want to write something just to be writing, because I'm certain that it would show in the quality of my prose.

That's not to say that I've been lying around reading. I mean, lying around reading is a favorite pastime of mine, but I haven't indulged in a while. We do yard work, we clean, we take care of 12,429,347,230,947 animals. (This might be an exaggeration.) We have also been regulars at local thrift stores. Not that there's room for anything else. After getting my Room under control, I up and moved. More than half of what I own is still in boxes because we haven't worked out exactly where it's all going to go. Sometimes it's so overwhelming that we go to thrift stores just to get out and away from it all.

So, while I wait for further inspiration I leave you with a collage of pictures taken at my favorite of all – Top Drawer. Ladies and gentlemen, I present... The Trannequins.

Trannequins