Micrófono Abierto Bilingüe con Chocolate

I moved from San Francisco to Napa CA in 2009 to take a new job. I wasn’t looking forward to living in what I thought of as a white-bread community. I soon realized how ignorant I was. I chose a working class neighborhood in which to make my home and eventually became active in the writing community.

Early in 2017, I sat in a roomful of well-meaning, mostly gringo artists at the Napa Valley State of the Arts event. I listened as the panelists discussed the fact that our local diverse communities were not in the room. One brave Latino photographer spoke up. “If you want to include them, you need to go to them. They are not going to come to you.” I wondered how to do that. I spoke to Izrael a few times during the next twelve months, and never really felt like I did much to help.

A year later, still wondering, I ran into him at the 2018 State of the Arts. I sat in on a small panel discussion, again, on diversity challenges, with mostly caucasians in the room. One out of three panelists was a young man I’d met earlier in the year. Intelligent, outspoken and passionate, Xulio had moved here as a kid many years ago with his family from Oaxaca, Mexico. He’s a social justice worker and a poet.

I’m the current president of Napa Valley Writers, and we were going to be hosting a first for our Valentine’s Day meeting just weeks later: Open Mic with Chocolate. I sat in front of the panel with an idea brewing, perhaps a way to bring our diverse communities together on one day of love – an Open Mic with Chocolate – Bilingual edition.

I spoke with Xulio at the panel’s conclusion and we met the next day. We were excited with our new plan. He reached out to his wide-spread ties in the local global south and native performing arts communities. We coordinated a bilingual public service announcement on local radio, distributed Spanish-English flyers, and promoted the event to our publicity contacts.

A few minutes before the Valentine’s Day event was to start, the room was practically empty and I worried. Fifteen minutes later, the place was packed with some of the usual crowd and many more people I hadn’t met, or seen, before.

Twenty-five people, forty percent of the attendees, young and old, read or performed their work in poetry, prose, and song from their hearts in many flavors of love – for the land, for the people, for a lover, for change. My collaborator was emcee, and at the opening, Xulio informed the gathering that we chose not to ask that every piece be translated. We wanted to hear with our hearts the understanding that was there for each of us.

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Not being a Spanish or native speaker myself, I could occasionally pick out a few words like madre and amore. I thought of how so many others feel every day in the English language world of this America. My heart caught in my throat. We provided something very special that night. Everyone there was filled with compassion, togetherness, and the desire to move this one event forward into something more.

 

Speakers and listeners both touched their hearts with open hands with a feeling of gratitude and many of us had tears. Of course I’m still aware of our divisions, but at least once, together, we’ve experienced a bit of a bridge. The room pulsed with energy. One of our writers group members commented that it was the highlight of the year.

The Vintage high school girls’ Spanish and English words in poem and performance brought down the house as they spoke of the prejudices and injustices their families live with on a daily basis – and what they are doing to change it. The elder Mexican poet read from his journal to a pin-drop quiet audience, receiving a thunderous applause at the close. Charlie, native woman and elder, spoke and chanted, reminding us of our memories and our spirit that has been lost and is now being found again. Xulio’s performance dazzled. My Latino friend, who advised me that I had to go to them, spoke to me with misty eyes that matched mine.

Change is coming, I felt it that night and I feel it now.

 

(Thanks to the Napa Valley Register for running a version of this piece as a commentary in the Sunday 3/4/2018 edition)

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Sunday Morning

I’m sleeping. Sort of. I was tossing and turning all night. Stresses of the day added to a damn head cold.

DING. Cell phone message alert. I think about rolling over to check it. It takes me a minute.

Mom, could you come stay with Micah? He’s still sleeping and the rest of us are leaving to go get Rachel.

I think about saying something smart-ass about the fact that I was still sleeping. But it doesn’t really matter.

Yes. Be right there. I mess around a bit, making the bed, getting dressed until I hear their car rumbling awake.

I walk the 20 steps over to their place, say goodbye to the wide-awake-gang, grab some coffee and sit down for SNL – smiles and laughter, good. I read through the local paper: American Canyon (Inc. city in Napa County) researches becoming a sanctuary city. Great. I was actually wondering about Napa City/sanctuary sometime during my sleepless laying awake bothered and bewildered hours.

Micah’s up now. He’s 4, walking around looking for the family. He lays on the couch, plays with my phone a brief few minutes. He looks a little funky to me, more laid back than the real Micah. “When will they be home?” he asks. “When will Nana be here?”

“In a while, I’m not sure.”

“Wha what..’s…Daddy’s er, Daddy’s daddy’s name?” he asks, the words stumbling from his lips.

“You mean Lowell? Pop Pop? The guy in the picture there? With the beard?”

“Yeah… he …not coming today?”

“No honey. I’m sorry. He’s not, he died. He’s gone now.”

“No, he not!”

“I know it’s sad. He’s in our hearts now, where he’ll always be.”

“NO! HE! NOT!” He rolls away from me, looking up at the picture of his Pop Pop.

This is our first Thanksgiving without Lowell. We are so happy to have Rachel here with us this week. We all need all the love we can get. We miss him so very much.

Micah watches some TV, and asks for a bowl of cereal. “I want it mixed. Honey Nut Cheerios mixed with Honey Oat Crunch.”

Okay.

I go take a shower and go sit down with Micah again, checking my email and Facebook.

“When they be here?” he asks, his little fingers twirling my hair.

“In just a few minutes, they’re right around the corner.”

Mollie just texted me to say so.

Everyone arrives, excitement in the air. The two grandmas hug and check in with each other. She’s had a long day already, having left Arizona to arrive in Oakland at 8 a.m.

I love Sundays. Mollie brought me a donut.

 

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Write On!

We writers, all of us, and our readers, sometimes take our words for granted. If I know one thing, I know how much our words matter. Each and every word, whether it’s surrounded by thousands of others in a book, or part of 140 characters in a tweet. Our words have the power to show our love and air our disdain. Our words can touch the hearts of strangers everywhere. They can bring loved ones closer. The words we choose to put on paper can drive a wedge, dig a hole, or take us to the moon.

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I hope this week you’ll choose to write something to make a difference. It’s your choice, and mine. We can write in a journal, we can write a letter, yes, a real letter to someone. We could send a birthday card with our own words of life inscribed with our signature. We could post a new blog, follow our friends, like them, and make our own comments on Facebook.

We have the power. We have the heart. Honor that writer inside you. Don’t let your muse hide out any longer.

As the master once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Look at what he did. Listen to Bob Dylan, our newest Nobel Laureate. Go ahead, write a song.

Pen to paper, fingertips to screen, or clickety clack on your keyboard.

Do it today, do it this week. Write again next week. And the one after.

If you’re really serious — and courageous — you’ll share those words inside your heart.

I bet you’ll be glad you did.

Where I live in Napa, California, we are celebrating Napa Writers Week. In the rest of the state, it’s California Writers week. The state’s yearly commemoration came about many years ago through the efforts of a few eager California Writers Club folks and their contacts in the CA state legislature.

This week is Napa’s first Napa Writers Week, thanks to the commitment of our County Board of Supervisors. On behalf of our Napa Valley Writers and all the writers in the community, I took the idea to my district supervisor. He was all for it. And there we go. Napa Writers Week. You could do the same where you live. It’s a fabulous way to honor the writers in your community, including yourself. This coming Saturday, our indie bookstore is hosting a local celebration of local authors at Napa Bookmine.

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I Am Not a Genre

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with labels. I think I’m not alone in this.

Either I’ve been boxed in by others, or I’ve boxed myself into this label or that. I’ve been guilty of boxing others as well. Inevitably, at just the right time, if luck has it, the labels slide off into the muck and mire of true life.   And when we are lucky, we get to choose our own silky ribbons instead of another unforgiving box.

“What genre do you write?” asks a writer when we meet for a glass of wine.

“Uh, well, I write fiction, poetry. Non-fiction. Sometimes, memoir, sometimes flash fiction, I’ve written a bit of creative non-fiction, some travel stuff. Once in a while, for kids,” I reply, pretty sure I haven’t supplied the politically correct answer.

“What about you?” I ask my new acquaintance.

“Oh, I write fantasy,” she answers.

Fantasy? Fiction? Is fiction fantasy? Fantasy is fiction? We‘re all making up stories.

Stories are one thing. People are another.

Conclusion. I am not a genre.

Define genre. A noun.

‘New Oxford American Dictionary’ at my fingertips: a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style or subject matter.

There are numerous synonym citations at www.thesaurus.com:

style               sort                species

category            

kind                variety

In www.dictionary.com: a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like: the genre of epic poetry.

My favorite, seen here at www.urbandictionarycom: an

unnecessary 

label attached to music, movies,novels, etc. giving way to discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudice.

While I was reading and thinking and writing and pondering, a friend called asking me to pick up and bring to her the pain medication she’d forgotten at home that she desperately desired. Yes, I know I’m labeling her as a friend. Let’s not get too carried away here. She couldn’t leave work; she was in a lot of pain.

I’m in the car, sitting at a stoplight, looking around.   A truck heading into the intersection to my right catches my eye. Big dark maroon truck. I don’t know if it was a Dodge, or a Ford, or a Chevy. One word printed on the sides and the back screamed right at me:

D E F I N E

It was a sign. A sign, I tell you.  How often have you seen something like that and not known it was a sign?

You may not know that I’ve been blogging off and on for years, may not have seen much of it. I don’t have millions of followers. Yet. Some of my older pieces I’m not really happy with any longer. Typical of most writers.

During the past few years, I’ve created and followed my own internal blogging labels. Genre labels. One page for poetry. This site for essay. This one for non-fiction. That one for travel stories.

Ad infinitum.

Ad nauseum.

So, loyal readers, soon, I pretty much won’t be doing that. I’ll be here.  In one place.   www.writerpaints.wordpress.com. If I change my mind later, I’ll let you know.  If you want the addresses of the pages that have come before, just ask.  I’ll be happy to pass them along.

My intention is to review the old posts on the other pages. The ones I don’t outright delete,

I’ll retrieve  and

dress them

update ‘em

redraft and/or revise

and

perhaps…

include them here.

I feel better already.

Oeuvre and out.

WriterPaints

WriterPaints