Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Road Tripping With Denise McCluggage, 1927-2015: The "She Broke Even" Tour

 Story by Frances Madeson

Change is the only constant, Hanging on the only sin.--Denise McCluggage

I am drawn to sport because I like to experience those clear neon-lined moments of being truly tuned in. And I like to watch the concentration of energy in anything done purely...Beauty is a tremor of the spine.--DM

On the racetrack I feel like a monk on a secluded cliff. The race is like being on a balcony in NYC, it's chess at a hundred miles an hour, chaos becomes peaceful in the race car. There's no pollution of outside life, you're absolutely in the moment. Not everybody gets it, but Denise did
.--Eben Cahan, Amigo Tires and Auto

Racing is something I did, not what I was....Writing  is an excuse to sample anything.--DM
A Soul's Reverie

A wonderfully wise and witty writer named Denise McCluggage passed away at age 88 in Santa Fe this past May and, oh yes I almost forgot, she was also a pioneering race car driver and breaker of any number of gender barriers in athletics and sports journalism. In a more just world she'd be as well known, widely celebrated and filthy rich as that other New Mexican feminist icon--Georgia O'Keeffe. Denise also filled her canvas in a beautiful way, but her canvas was her life, lived artfully, intentionally and fruitfully. She leaves behind a breathtaking record of accomplishment and a fellowship of some of the nicest sweetest smartest most bereft mourners in the Land of Enchantment--the members of Car Table.

Denise and cool car broker Fred Vang formed Car Table in 2002, and it's still as lively and happening as ever. But it might never have gotten off the ground if Fred had not been as persistent as he was about making contact. "I'm reading one of her articles and it says she's 'perched at 7,000 feet in Santa Fe.' I looked in the phone book, found her number and called her. I left a message, sent a fax, called her editor. Nothing, no response. One day I'm driving along St. Michael's and I see a souped-up AMG Mercedes, E Class. Its wheels were black, its exhaust was cranking, it had been driven hard. I thought what's this car doing in Santa Fe? On the steps of the bank I see Denise and can't help myself and say, 'You never answered my letter!' To which she says, throwing her hands in the air like a criminal, 'Oh my God, who have I offended now?' We sat in the car and talked for an hour. I invited her over for breakfast and Martha made popovers."

From this auspicious beginning, Car Table was later born. In essence it's a cohort of car enthusiasts who meet for lunch every Tuesday at noon at the Santa Fe Bar and Grill and discuss all things automotive. At my first visit Rubin Manzanares said, "I was born craving cars, ever since I could walk. My uncle had a tractor, when I was four or five I began noticing cars. I finally got my first one—an El Camino with the muffler cut off, sparks flying...Freedom!" Like Fred Vang many of its members knew of Denise decades before they actually got to meet her at Car Table. Bob Morgart, originally from Pennsylvania, remembers watching her race as boy. "I was a kid. I would see her race in Limerock, Cumberland, Marlboro, Watkins Glen. My uncle and I would go. I think she was driving a 550 Porsche Spider and my uncle said, 'That's Denise McCluggage, the greatest woman driver in the world!'

"My first meaningful discussion with Denise," Bob explained, "was at the mailboxes at our townhouse community in 1991, maybe 92. I was driving a 90 Q45 Infiniti, and she asked me if I'd driven the new Cherokee Jeep. When I realized I was talking to the Denise McCluggage, I began to recite all of her accomplishments but she stopped me. 'Don't!' she cried. 'I didn't set out to blaze a trail for anyone. I just did what I wanted to do and I wasn't going to let a man stop me.' But a man did stop her from the best ride of her life. She was set to drive a Ferrari at Le Mans, and the French officials refused to allow it. She got kicked off the team for being a woman, and Bob Grossman got the ride instead. Later Grossman tried to apologize to her, but she wouldn't let him. 'It wasn't your fault,' she told him. And she meant it.

"Denise was either the judge or an honored guest at many of the major racetracks," Bob continued. "She was a longtime judge at the Concours d'Elegance at Pebble Beach, twenty-plus years, I'd say.. She could get the president of any car company on the phone at any hour and sometimes would pick up the phone and call Stuttgart, to Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of Mercedes, just to talk to him about cars. Mercedes Benz established a scholarship in automotive journalism at the University of Kansas in her name.

"She was on the road traveling at least half the year. She'd be invited to road rallies all over the world, from Europe to China. Australia to Cuba in the time of Batista, to South America. She tested cars.She drove roads on ice above the Arctic Circle. Every car company invited her to drive their cars. I'm not sure how many cars she ever paid for personally. The old MG and maybe the last one."

Beyond the Black and White
When the great designers and drivers in the racing community learned that Denise had died—men like Peter Brock, the designer of the Cobra Daytona; Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant, Stirling Moss—they broke down in tears. "I never thought she'd die" was the common reply..

"We thought she'd go on forever," Bob said, "she was so young at heart. But kidney cancer took her, though she told no one, or very few. It's why she had so many parties at the end, she wanted to see everybody." Denise had confided in Dennis and Beverly Little with whom she'd worked on the Santa Fe Concorso since its inception. Everyone says the Littles were very good to Denise, adding many comforts and care to her final days. Jean Jennings, who served as emcee at the Memorial Tribute, had visited Denise just a few days before she died. People from around America came to Santa Fe for the tribute on Saturday: Luigi Chinetti, Jr., Claiborne Booker, and three generations of her family.

Jim Coffman came to his first Car Table in October 2011. He had “met” Denise reading her work in Autoweek and before that Competition Press as a youngster. “I'd subscribed from the late 60's. When I realized she was living in Santa Fe I emailed her and said, I would love to meet you. She said sure, so my wife and I met her at the Pink Adobe for tea. She regaled us with stories for almost two hours. She was a national treasure, always had a twinkle in her eye. She knew Miles Davis, she helped him with his first Ferarris. It's hard to walk in here and see that she's not there." 

Eben Cahan, proprietor of Amigo Tire and Auto, teared up as we spoke of Denise. Besides his sons, Eben's passion in life is race car driving and Denise McCluggage is a personal hero. He met her at an art opening in a gallery on Canyon Road about ten years ago, sat next to her at Car Table's celebration of her 88th birthday, and was one of the guys who arranged to put new tires on her car as a birthday present.

"My first conversation with Denise was about driving. She likened a car to a board with four water balloons under each of its corners. When you accelerate, the weight of the board squishes the balloons, the balloons being the tires. I sought Denise out because of her racing experiences. If I had one wish in life it would be to download her experiences from her brain to mine—the smells, the sounds, all of it. To become a better racer, to better control the race car. Denise would say, 'Don't break the balloons.' I was envious in a good way, in awe. There are a handful of women in the world doing what she did. And she was beating boys, she was genuinely fast. That is a skill that cannot be taught, it's a God-given talent.

"The beautiful thing about racing is that it's totally honest. The stopwatch never lies, either you're fast or you're not. Denise was.She was also humble. She didn't like to talk too much about her accomplishments, it never went to her head. The most important thing about Denise was that she was genuinely happy. You'd catch a little of that when you hung out with her. You always felt better afterward.”

"Without Denise, I wouldn't know any of these guys..." is a common refrain among Car Table members. "We were always in her light."

To a man, they love Denise McCluggage. Love her! I'd bet my next Ferrari there's not a man in Car Table, straight or gay, who hasn't fantasized pillow-talking with some version of Denise: She was a gamine young woman, sophisticated in middle-age, and a cherubic elder. At last Saturday's memorial tribute thirty-something J.P. Gonzales said from the podium: "Denise was my 86-year-old girlfriend, my 87-year-old-girlfriend, my 88-year-old girlfriend..." Another man on the packed patio at Santa Fe Bar and Grill called out: "I dated her before you did, J.P.!" Everyone laughed, but as Fred Vang said when he took his turn at the mic: "This is fun, but also very, very hard."

She was lovers with a veritable parade of hotties: Hollywood actor Steve McQueen, jazz sax player Allen Eager, racers Caroll Shelby and Briggs "Swift" Cunningham, and...ahem...more. Lots, lots more. She told some of the Car Table guys, “I may not have been made for marriage, but I sure had a lot of fun with some really great men.” Bob Morgart places her in the free-thinking company of personages like Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Celeste Claflin. "Denise was a rule-breaker, always. A true original."

From her Short Cuts interview with Bill Sharfman published in Automobile Magazine, circa 1996:
I drove for Briggs, he'd give you a car, it was a totally amateur thing, he never paid his guys, but it was more fun. Now these guys make millions, you have to bring sponsors with you. I had CITGO as a sponsor, to promote a book I wrote called "Are You a Woman Driver?" which was a pump giveaway -- you got that instead of steak knives. It sold for a buck in bookstores, you could get a book for a dollar then. I was always scrambling, I'd like to have on my tombstone, "She broke even."
Many would likely argue that those three little words, though perhaps telling about her equanimity in temperament, sense of fair play and steady upbeat personality, are an insufficient summation of her extraordinary life. But it's a moot point: there's no tombstone. Instead, her family, in Santa Fe last week for the various tributes, along with her auto-reviewing co-blogger, J.P. Gonzales, scattered Denise's ashes roadside at an undisclosed location somewhere in the New Mexican countryside. J.P. explained why. "As you drive those lonely roads, she's with you."

Further proofs of the value of her company on those lonely roads follow.

Why not Earl?

From her earliest days as a Topeka Kansas schoolgirl Denise had the gift of radical inclusiveness. The story goes that it had come time to elect a new class president in high school, and while discussing potential candidates Denise asked a simple and life-changing question: Why not Earl?

Why not Earl? Because Earl was Black, ergo in most minds ipso facto out of the running. But back in 1940's Kansas Denise had a social imagination, and exercised it enough to ask that one vital question of her peers. Why not Earl?

On the strength of Denise's nomination, Earl was elected class president. If she has greatness, and many believe that she does, the seeds of it are in that story.

My favorite piece in her collection of automotive journalism, By Brooks Too Broad for Leaping (Fulcorte Press, Santa Fe, 1994), is titled "Me, Mama, Mini and Moscow." In a breezy offhand style she writes about her trip to the Soviet Union in 1964--"an early touch of glasnost." Yummy alliteration aside, "Me, Mama, Mini and Moscow" concerns risk-taking on behalf of freedom of expression and personal liberty. And not just for oneself.
I carried in the Mini an assortment of records and a unique little player no larger than a book.Open it up and then close it--clam-like--around a record. Voilà! Music.
Mom and I returned to the Mini, parked in Red Square, after lunch one day to find we were being awaited. A young man tapped the car window pointing excitedly at the records. So I hauled them out, set the little player on the Mini's roof and Voilà! Music.
Maybe not as sure fire as a small plane to gather a crowd in Red Square, but it would suffice. A soldier and his girl started doing the Twist, radical enough for Moscow in that age. Others joined them. (Was I introducing randomness?) Then Mother whispered at me: "You're going to get us arrested!"
And that could happen. Now I was being offered illegal old rubles, icons, family treasures in trade for the records. "Milesdavis!" "Milesdavis!" One guy was beside himself over 'Round Midnight. I guess the Voice of America was reaching its target.
I had heard of tourists arrested for illegally trading money, for selling blue jeans. Like that. But could officials fault a visitor for presenting friends with a gift? I certainly hoped not. And I dealt out my Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis and Ray Charles records to a grateful few in the shadow of Lenin's tomb. And mounted my Mini with my mother. And moseyed on.
Part of what Denise would do in New Mexico is “establish new routes” for the car rallies, meaning she'd go riding in the countryside at speeds not really contemplated by the Department of Transportation with their restriction to two-digit speed limits. There was a Viper event and Bob Lutz, the General Motors Exec in charge of the Dodge Viper was in town from Michigan. Together they opened up a new race route through Cuba, New Mexico, and back over to Jemez Springs. She was in one red Viper and Lutz was in another identical car. When the law caught up with them, she pulled her car out of view and hid behind a restaurant. Lutz, who hadn't been the offending driver got pulled over and ticketed. She could hear him saying to the police, “There were two and I'm the other one.” To her later, he accused, “You set me up! You set me up!” But she just laughed, and said, “You've done it to yourself.”

Future of the Absent Present Far Past

Great thanks to photographer Robert Esposito for illustrating our imaginary road trip with Denise so splendidly, so sublimely. These and more photos are available for purchase on his website  Please read his bio and artist's statement there. (I'm pretty sure he may have a really cool Mustang that might be available for purchase, as well.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dancing Earth's Desert Journey to Planet IndigenUs 4 International Arts Festival

Story by Frances Madeson. All images by Kerri Cottle Photography taken at Dancing Earth's open rehearsal of Re-Generation on July 28, 2015 at the Railyard Performance Center in Santa Fe, NM
Rulan Tangen, Dancing Earth Director, dancing the role of the Ancient Seed Carrier
Corn, beans, squash, water...

Dance is its own language of movement, rhythm, gesture, breath. But in Re-Generation, Dancing Earth's newest eco-cultural work in progress, these few words are spoken aloud in the native languages of the four dancers who are co-creating it: Rulan Tangen, company director, her former student Anne Pesata, break dancer Shane Montoya, and teacher and choreographer Trey Pickett. In every utterance these fundamental wordscorn, beans, squash, waterare given new life, extending the idea of regeneration to the Native languages themselves.

They're dancing for their lives,” is how Tangen expresses it. “These dancers are visionaries. Cultural ambassadors. They're showing humility and gratitude in the dance and also in the making of the dance, car-pooling to get to rehearsals, sharing food; they're giving so much to be here.” The message to the viewers in Canada, where 60 per cent of croplands and 80 per cent of rangelands are in dry-land areas, is urgent and cautionary: “If you don't live in gratitude and in balance, your own land could soon become desert too.”

The only dance company from the United States to be invited to this year's Planet IndigenUs, New Mexico's premiere indigenous contemporary dance ensemble Dancing Earth will be among 300 participants in the 10-day multi-disciplinary arts festival. Other dance artists include the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Penny Couchie, Sarain Carson-Fox and Santee Smith of Canada, Frances Rings from Australia, and Bulareyaung Pagarlava from Taiwan.  

It is not unusual for Tangen, who had a professional dance career in New York City and Canada, touring to Norway and Paris and dancing for HRH Prince Charles, to receive such prestigious invitations. Accepting them is another matter. “We have so many invitations – we could go around the world – to the dusty corners and to the spotlit centers. But we have been challenged to get financial support to subsidize these prestigious invitations. I hear tales of other countries who support their dance artists—with studios, multi-year rehearsal periods, governmental travel funds for festival invitationsthose are amazing and lavish resources, comparatively.”

By contrast, Dancing Earth often rehearses outside. “We're not
portraying a struggle, we're in it,” Tangen said, explaining the day-to-day material realities of keeping the troupe viable. Her own personal teaching pay is largely dedicated to Dancing Earth's budget. Without a trace of self-pity but perhaps a little perplexity at society's priorities she admitted: “It's hard rolling on cactus. Dancing in snow. We are the underground and the underdogs. Our few props are baskets, sticks and rocks gathered from nature. Our costumes (designed by Cheryl Odom and Connie Windwalker) are made from recycled fabrics. We've rehearsed this piece less than five days, the dancers contributing their hours away from work and family. We have pared back to essentials. In the end all the dancers really have is their intention and each other.” 
Shane Montoya (center), of Dine/Hispanic heritage - wonderful break dancer and dance teacher in NM
Their intention is to represent the stories of the people of Abaachi, Dine, Tewa, and relocated Tsalagi, Papanga, Kainai, Metis, and many others who have contributed to the bowl of lived cultural knowledge in this inter-tribal collaboration. Dancing Earth has spent the last three to four years in cultural development. Guided by Native elders they're invited to create dances around a theme. In the past these have centered around stories of environmental degradation, especially of water sources. “We're deeply storied," says Rulan, "we're embedded in our communities and we have pledged to our people that we will tell the important stories of right now. We will survive climate change. We've been beaten down by fracking, but we offer the vision of hope, renewal, healthy bodies, empowered women. We are the ones who have chosen the desert, to live a life of gratitude, of vision, of patience, prayer and perseverance. We are desert people with desert knowledge. We carry it all on our backs.
Anne Pesata bearing the weight

We do not show the sacred dances," Rulan assured, "but in various permutations we are remaking undeniable Native dances that are sourced from ancient yet relevant philosophies that we revitalize through embodiment as contemporary artists. PowWow dancing contains some of the most vital contemporary forms you will ever see, also based in long held traditions. So much dance training offers a limited vision of beauty. But a dance can be made more beautiful not despite but because the dancers are bigger. In some traditional dances the women dancers wrap their legs to make them thicker, to make them appear more like tree trunks.

In response to these very different and powerful worldviews, I created the company I wanted to be in. I couldn't find 'it' in the urban landscape. We practice Land Dance techniques, Bio-mimicry, the land and botanical growth patterns inform our movements and rhythms; we experience a heightened awareness of energies.”

Re-Generation opens with the original ancestor character, danced by Rulan, open-mouthed, her head and face sheathed behind a diaphanous veil. “I am still discovering what this costume symbol is
a cocoon, the layered skins of seed that become successively more transparent...,” Rulan confessed. “I know a call through a veil was a motif I wanted. How much life force do our ancestors have to deploy to be heard?” The ancient seed carrier crosses the desert. She moves slowly depicting the ancients' sense of time—observation, calmness, breath. When she walks backwards she passes the younger being (danced by Anne), passing along her knowledge. “The younger girl doesn't see me, but feels me holding space at her back. She's running as you would to the ocean, knees high. She places the seed rocks on the ground making a deliberate pattern, a marking for the next generation. She becomes the ground, creating the soil; she makes vine-like movements. She is resilience, falls, gets up. She makes foraging movements. A Native chef and forager had taught us these purposeful gestures, to collect mushrooms, singing as she harvests them.”

Anne is joined by the men, Shane and Trey, carrying sticks and staffs. They hunt as she forages conveying important history. “Before Indigenous farming practices, essentially what is now known as permaculture, we were foragers and hunters,” Rulan explained. “We lived a 'leave no trace' way of life. We lived life in a state of heightened awareness, and also in the security that anywhere you landed you could feed yourself. But we had to become planters in response to Colonization.”

The branches are placed upright between the rocks Anne has left on the ground. The ancestors are building on each other's foundations. The ancient ancestor drags a magnificent royal blue train behind her, upon which is piled a heap of trash. There are gestures of openness, endless giving. She is collecting the trash on the water, pulling their pain, all that society has done to beat them down. In response, the three young dancers join together foot to foot, climbing on each other, sharing burdens, offering gifts. Their step and stair formation is found on their peoples' beadworks, pottery, rugs, and is often symbolic of mountain slopes, clouds, direction and change. “The ancestors," Rulan explains, "are also the mountains and clouds, conjuring water through the people's collective intention.”

The dancers spread, shake, whip and ultimately gather under an olive green covering made from recycled parachute material, and their movements are meant to de-emphasize the distinction between humans and plants. They extend themselves to all four cardinal directions, reaching and writhing, filling the space with a vision of the vast and fertile earth. A diadem of sunflowers sits atop Rulan's head. As the other dancers' torsos poke through the fabric, they seem themselves to be sprouting.
 In the final scene the music (designed and played by DJ Kino Benally, and incorporating work by musician Ehren Natay and the recorded voices of many community members) picks up in tempo. The seeds turn toward the northeast. The music is urban Indigenous—house, cumbia. “They are also ours,” explained Rulan, “the rhythms and people; mixed-blood, urban, vital pulse.” In the final image the dancers appear to be plants reaching to the sky. The lights will go out, but the music will continue, as will the Native peoples.

“Survivance” is an amalgam of survival and resilience, a
ccording to Rulan, and it's a vital state. "Our people have experienced massacres and genocide. We deal with tragedy by working with healers. We help each other move through the suffering place. We use innate, instinctive touch, we hold talking circles, we're always feeding each other in community. There is a vital role for arts in movement building. Instead of focusing on the oppressor the focus is on creativity, imagination. We spend time envisioning transformation. A place where we're strong, as comfortable on our hands as on our feet, supported, uplifted, respected and acclaimed.”
Trey Pickett (center) of Tsalagi/African American heritage - multifaceted dancer, teacher and choreographer
 It should be said that Dancing Earth's dance-creation process is deliberately exploring concepts
of De-Colonization. “Our dances are created from an exchange of stories. We inhabit the stories, animate each other's stories. Our process is participatory and we honor the Indigenous modes. This is counter to some of the more hierarchical processes I experienced as a young dancer,
which taught a dancer the beautiful selflessness of becoming an instrument to another’s vision. In some ways it's much harder to create a cohesive collage or mosaic. Nothing is superimposed, there's no demand that a pointed foot be pointed merely for a preconceived notion of what a line should look like. A foot might be pointed if it were supposed to represent a leaf in a specific instance, but not overall. I teach in a state of inquiry, it's how we resist the oppression layered onto us."

n the first rehearsal I attended, much of the time was dedicated to practicing the movements with the enormous parachute covering while counting out 12 beats, getting the count right, getting in sync with each other in a rare instance of unison in a work that seeks a more organic expression of group dynamics. “We perform variations on unison,” Rulan prompted, "like wind on the grasses we saw outside earlier.” Her suggestions to the dancers accented the sensuousness of their creation: "You're peeling away a corn husk...emphasize the smoothness and silkiness...the texture is so interesting...use the flat palm instead of grabbing the material...give a breath as a sound cue."

Afterward Rulan asked the dancers, who were all holding hands in a circle for the debrief, “How do you feel?” “Sweaty!” was the answer, and everyone laughed. The sweetness of laughter had infused the creative problem-solving throughout the rehearsal; mutual respect was palpable even if someone was late by a beat, or early. “If I'm late,” Rulan advised, “go on with each other! I'll catch up to you.” Whatever the opposite of diva is, that is Rulan's directorial style and rehearsal demeanor.

After all the exacting practice Rulan gave the dancers the recognition that was their due. Smiling, she told them she could feel the energy from emanating along their spines up through the back of their heads. She told them they were all bringing it on an equal level, that she was stunned and thrilled, and that this rehearsal was the strongest yet. “There's been a change,” she said. “You've come such a long way, especially in making tangible your relationships with each other.” Later, she said to me, “The Seed is the lens of ecology, our dance is a functional ritual of reciprocity. We hope our company's own arc will be that of the seed—first small, then multiplied, then abundantly more." Beautiful words as prelude for a generous thought: "I would like to be able to pay the dancers a fair living wage, so they can do this full time.
Anne Pesata, of Jicarilla First Nation has a degree in Environmental Studies and works for her tribe as a community health representative

Dancing Earth's festival performance will be held on Thursday, August 6th from 7:30-8:30 pm, at the renowned McMichaels Art Gallery. In the company's Canadian debut they'll be creating a site-immersive ritual on a spiral mound. They plan to do a tobacco blessing as both a smudging and a swirling dance of smoke. They'll explore the space in movement, and then make a progression together to the gallery where they will dance Re-Generation. But first there will be a cultural welcoming by First Nations guest artists, Jerry Longboat and Christine Friday, of Mohawk and Anishinabe heritage, respectively, both longtime dance colleagues of Rulan's, along with Shelley Charlesa respected Anishinabe elder, who will serve as land stewards. Rulan, Anne, Shane and Trey will ask permission of the land stewards to present their dance.

When Rulan invoked this traditional but neglected practice in some territories, tears came to the eyes of one Lakota woman who said through her gentle weeping: “It has been so long since this was remembered, we thought it had been forgotten.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gathering in the Aftermath: Heart to Heart with Mary Shoemaker and Patty Shure

All photos (except for the last) by Dinah Vargas

"We knew we had a hurting kid," said Patty Shure adoptive mother of 16-year-old Victor Villalpando, the youngest victim of New Mexico police violence in the very bloody year of 2014. "We were on it!" added Mary Shoemaker, Victor's other adoptive mother, explaining that they were attentive to their son's tendency to depression, his confusion about his personal edges, and uncertainty about who he was in a general sense. In fact the very day before Victor was shot in the street by Española cop Jeremy Apodaca, the moms had been assured by a psychologist with whom they had consulted that things weren't so bad, that Victor did not need to be placed in the intensive out-patient program they'd been actively considering for him.

Our topic was self-recrimination, and there was plenty to go around.

Victor had wanted to go visit his birth grandparents that week, but his mothers wanted him to finish his online classes for the 9th grade. "We put roadblocks in his way; as his mothers we set boundaries for him," Mary explained. "He hated that." As a compromise he was allowed to study by day and spend Saturday night at his friend's house in Española. The following morning, Sunday, June 8th, he told his friend he was going out for a walk, a walk from which he never returned.

Shure and Shoemaker reject the narrative as it's told by the police and repeated uncritically in the media: the facile, and in this case particularly baseless, "suicide by cop" theory one hears so often. Their lawyers, who have filed a tort claim on their behalf (no lawsuit is currently planned), have examined the surveillance video that captured Apodaca's 15-second encounter with their boy, other specialists too. "It gets grainy, there's no audio, there were no lapel cameras. Inconclusive, " Mary says. But something wells up in Patty. "I was trained to be a nice girl. For a year I've been saying Victor's death, when Victor was killed. But now I say our boy was murdered," Patty says. "Murdered by someone who thought he was a threat."

Though Victor was shot down in Española, the family resides in El Rito, a rural village located 18 miles to the north. "I wish we had had a chance to teach him not to mess with the cops," Patty said. "My immediate regret was that. He was raised by us inside our sense of white privilege, with no street smarts, out in the country where there are no police. In those ways he wasn't savvy, and I...I didn't know to teach him that.

"It's part of this journey," Patty explains. "The relentless 'What else could I have done?' And then you turn your attention somewhere else. Because you have to."

The couple, who were married in California, have three other children, one by birth and two other adoptees. They received Vic, as they sometimes call him, from the New Mexico Children Youth & Family Department just after he was born. "He was always of two worlds," Mary said, and Patty elaborated. "His birth mother, who died two years ago from a heroin overdose, went into early labor as a result of a drunk driving accident. She was airlifted to UNM hospital, and told me that she was paddled back to life three times en route. As a newborn Victor had cocaine and THC in his bloodstream; the nurses said he was going through withdrawal. That was the soup in which he was formed."

The narcotics and alcohol affected him in various ways. On one hand he was something of a motor skills prodigy. "When he was still two," Mary remembered, "he was already riding a two-wheeler. He convinced an adult to take off his training wheels and he was cycling around the churchyard. But he was slower to talk than our other children, and definitely slower to potty-train."

"Socially, he was younger than his age," Patty added. "And he was remarkably empathic and kind. His pre-natal life showed up in unexpected ways. He was concerned for the panhandlers we'd see in Española, who are often addicts. He'd say, Mom, that guy is still there, what can we do? We had endless conversations about how to support a person's humanity without supporting his illnesses. Finally I got him to accept, to agree, that he would not give them his lunch money every single day. But I always had to have some Taco Bell gift cards on hand, and we'd give those out. I have them still, a few, in my wallet. That's Victor."

"He took everybody's pain," Mary said. Once a family friend perished at their dinner table, shockingly dying during the meal from a massive heart attack. While the arrangements were being made Victor, though just a boy, stayed with the body the entire time. "He wouldn't leave his side," Patty recalled. "Another time, I'd hurt my foot and was bedridden for a while. Victor nursed me. Before he'd go to elementary school he'd look in on me. What can I get for you, mom? Do you need anything?"

"Victor was a little kid, with a big presence," Patty said. "We've lived here for a long time. Mary's retired now but she taught for 26 years, and I've been involved as a social worker. Over the years we've met a lot of people. But since his death, we've realized that he had more connections than the two of us together. If there's solace to be found, it's there, that we're not the only ones missing him. Everyone in his life has similar feelingshow could we have helped him more? That's a part of losing someone in this way, violently in the streets."

For months Mary and Patty went to the grave site every single day. They'd find toys or other tokens there, left by the children to whom their son had taught dance and gymnastics at Moving Arts Española. One child left a rosary from his first holy communion. Seed balls and heart-shaped rocks are not uncommon; colorful flowers crafted from duct tape grace his resting place, and homemade carved crosses have appeared from strangers who are simply moved by the family's unbearable loss. One day they plan to cover the mound where he rests in a mosaic of heart-shaped rocks. For now they re-mound the dirt when it loses shape from erosion, or tidy up the various memorial tributes when they're knocked over by the wind and rain.

"When they told us in the hospital they wouldn't be able to save him, I started to keen," Mary said."I didn't know the word keening before I did it. For the longest time, I had to make myself get up in the morning. I wanted to hide. People stayed with us after the funeral. It was a good thing they did: they reminded us to breathe, they made us eat. I've lost ten pounds this year, which I find astounding. I cry many times a day. I notice how it makes my body feel, I acknowledge the sorrow. But lately that's side-by-side with joy, seeing the sunset again."

Patty began grief counseling about a month ago; it's helping she feels. "It took me so long to get into counseling. I have moments of more acceptance and then there are times when I'm just No, no, no! And I really question why I have to stay here on this earth without him? I don't know the answer, but I feel that I do."

Physically, she has odd aches and pains, bouts of sleeplessness. There are challenges with stress-related activities. She finds herself over-reacting at times to situations that before their terrible loss simply would not have ruffled her. At first working was out of the question, but she's come back in stages. She used up all her leave, co-workers generously donated theirs, and she was away for a full month. Then she returned on a part-time basis, and though she's now back full-time she no longer engages in direct service to kids and their families. Her role now is primarily administrative. She tells herself that someone who cares has to do that job too, even with its bureaucratic frustrations.

And they have fears, terrible, terrible fears. Mary's concerned about what she calls the "out-there kids," all the other kids like Victor, who maybe "take up too much space." She doesn't want a single other one dead, "pain in the butts that they are." About the police, Mary has felt Fuck you, fuck you! "But I change that tape, I've played around with it. Now I say 'peace on your journey.' I say it, but I've lived in terror that I'd be pulled over, and especially by Apodaca. Sometimes I'd see him, or think it was him. If that happened... I don't think I could control it."

In April, she did get pulled over for driving slightly over the speed limit. But it was by a San Juan tribal officer, and luckily he was gentle in his demeanor. "When I went to court I said to the judge, Please thank the officer. I lived in fear that if I was pulled over, I'd end up in jail."

But Mary's worst fear is for her other children. "I worry that something just as bad could happen to them."

One of the ways Mary copes with her anguished anxiety is to do the work to bring the change"here, or even more far-reaching"we all so desperately want: an end to police violence against the populace. Last Monday she sent off an information packet to the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, at President Obama's request. It included the autopsy report and other official documents filled with wrenching details: like Eric Garner in New York City, Victor's last words too were: "You're hurting me, I can't breathe."

The reform agenda is mighty: both she and Patty advocate jury trials not grand juries when an officer is involved in a shooting "so that the victim's voice is represented too." Secondly, the officers should be interviewed promptly (not 12 days later when they've all had ample opportunity to sync up their stories) and by a completely independent agency, not the New Mexico State Police who are all bound up together with the local departments. Mary and Patty want the lapel cameras turned on and with audio, so we can hear the conversation. (If only we knew what was said to Victor that made him turn his back on the officers, was it something shaming? Or did one of them say they were going to contact his parents? Did he turn back and offer them his cell phone, and was he shot for being helpful?)

They're also, as we all should be, interested in the conversation about disarming the police altogether. "How else," Mary asks, "are we going to break the cycle of fear?" She'll be discussing these and other ideas on the radio tomorrow at noon (KUNM) along with representatives from New Mexicans for Gun Safety.

Other proposals have to do with increased mental health policing and providing real alternatives to calling 911 in the first place, such as another three-digit hotline number that could bring real help. They want revisions to police training curriculum that would lead to a shift away from the focus on warrior cops shooting to kill. "But," Mary reminds us, "none of that will bring my kid back." And our thoughts return to Victor on that Sunday morning last June: why didn't they knock him down, tase him, shoot him in the leg, talk to him for more than 15 seconds?!

Would you ever call 911 again for any reason I ask Patty and Mary, to which they reply in unison: NEVER!

A powerful statement, especially from Patty who works on behalf of some really distressed families and and is aware of the array of dangerous possibilities. "Safety," she so wisely says, "is in your skills."

Patty Shure and Mary Shoemaker have been united in love and family for three decades, but they are fighting to hold onto their relationship. The truth is that many families don't stay intact after this kind of traumatic loss. Mary says they have to keep their family together for their 13-year-old daughter, and that they're giving each other a lot of space. Apodoca's bullet has ripped them apart, but says Mary, "It's gotta make us stronger. It's gotta."

Patty explains: "We're both in deep grief. It's hard to survive myself, and then to nurture someone else...I have to remind myself when I see Mary weeping, in a matter of seconds my own sorrow can be activated, that it could be me in the next moment feeling destroyed."

And too, Patty explained, for over 25 years they've led a quiet life, working in community, raising their children. But now peoplestrangerssome less than tactful, feel free to approach them and say things to them, sometimes terrible things. "Oh, that was your son. Well, what did he think would happen?" Mary added too that Victor's slaying has outed them as lesbians in a small rural town. One woman recently told them she'd always thought they were sisters (though they look nothing alike). The whole ordeal has propelled them into the public light, a place they never wanted to be.

Mary confessed: "We had a hard time getting ourselves to the memorial service for the anniversary. We just wanted to be with family. But it was organized by community members who also love our boy. So we go. And then we see him in the mural, twenty feet tall, planting seeds, exuding life. Communitythat's what his death has doneit's strengthened our community."

"I wake up in the morning, and I have to remember that he's no longer here," Patty said. "But whatever your beliefs, he's accessible to me: I talk to him. A lot. When Beau Biden died, I said, Hey, Vic, did you welcome him? And then I had to remember that Vic wouldn't have given a crap about a politician... So then I switched it up and asked him: Hey, Vic. Is Tupac dead, or not?

"And I heard his laughter, howling. But he didn't answer."

Friday, June 19, 2015

Anne Farrell at Currents 2015: The Anti-Gravity of The Island of Pal

All photos by Frances Madeson
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

The Red Wheelbarrow—William Carlos Williams

Today in these United States of Insanity, we grieve, we mourn, we shriek with the rage of the powerless, and the luckiest of us turn to Art for solace, for refuge, for healing, for momentary escape from the pain.  

In Anne Farrell's The Island of Pal little red skiffs float on undulating waters, but so do armchairs, fully made beds, and spiraling severed horses' heads in the throbbing air. Three toy horses are posed on synthetic turf in a theatrically raked trapezoidal corral bordered by tiny rope footlights. No bridles or saddles are ever in view; these are wild horses temporarily and ever-so-lightly penned in by a white picket fence. Enclosed inside the skewed geometry and oblique angles the equine visitors—a palomino named Pal, a buckskin called Bonnie, and her sometimes partner, the black-coated Clyde—are here to entice playmates.
A Plexiglas case contains two 3-D printed plastic spoons, one long and white, one short and black, each fancifully decorated with a frilly wide bow, suggestive of extravagant gifts and luxurious party dresses. Despite their differences in size and color, these spoons—emblems of the acts of feeding, digging, music-making—cohere; a second case protects a single small boat devoid of either passengers or cargo, its red and black paint painstakingly applied to appear weathered, and by inference, traveled. But how, with no oars or engine or agent, human or otherwise, aboard?

Projected on the far wall are two separate animated images, picture window size. On the left is an island in the distinct form of a leaf, and a pond in the shape of a giant amoeba in which renderings of magnified corpuscular cells pulse on the surface like fibrillating lotus blossoms. These projections of leaf island and amoeba pond, which foreground the rippling, writhing  instability of both land and water, help attune us to Farrell's primary preoccupation in this work—the shape of things. In all meanings: the particular external forms of her objects, but also their condition, what shape are they in? What is their fitness for continued existence and what will be the quality of that existence in a world where lands are gobbled for development, water is poisoned by industrial polluters, and beautiful wild things go tragically extinct, daily.

Farrell terms them “maps,” but hers is no ordinary cartography, at least the directions are not cardinal points on a magnetized compass, and the landmarks are referenced by her quotidian spoons and beds and chairs and skiffs. We might call hers an "onto-cartography" in that what she's mapping is being itself. Why would Farrell even attempt new maps, even symbological ones, if not to urge the need for, and possibility of, a reorientation? Maps are invitations, future forward ones; they move us onward, if only in our imaginations. Discovering the depth of the realms being sounded and charted by Anne Farrell, or at least trying to, is but part of the joy of engaging with The Island of Pal.

On the installation's side wall near the floor, its lowly placement a curiosity in and of itself, diminutive images of certain selected elements are projected in a slow and steady slide show. The lilliputian display reminds us to read the objects qua objects, absent their environments. Here we can let all of our uncensored associations froth to the surface—charms in a board game, Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles, Kandinsky's psycho-spiritual canvasses, the horse's head in The Godfather, coinage of fallen empires, and so on. We're also cornered into a consideration of dimensionality, as we share space simultaneously with the artifacts themselves and their various pixelated visual representations. Transformation too is in the mix—spoons were once pixels (before they were read and 3-D printed) and become pixels again in the digital animation.

The ambient sound-scape permeating the installation offers no aural clues to an easily identifiable reality: ambiguity is amplified, mystery resounds, here ecstasy is still possible.

 Inside a bricolage gilt frame is a screen upon which a ten-minute video containing all of these disparate constituents (and new characters too) is played in a loop. Also called The Island of Pal, the video is a dream narrative of Pal, Bonnie, and Clyde (neo-mythical names for fantastical beings) delighting in an idyll of grasslands and wildflowers. The animation makes no attempt to be lifelike. While the horses' plush tails do swish, their legs don't bend; they don't gallop so much as absurdly hop all four legs at once from point to point, or they hurtle through space without touching down at all.
The video has its own soundtrack filled with the ringing tones of chimes and plinking, tinkling bells, accessible by headphones. One comes to feel that this music is generated from our host Pal's own imagination as he frolics and flies about the landscape, striking notes and chords all beautifully pleasing to his toy horse ears. Decorative flourishes like cascading stars and dancing curlicues stir the atmosphere into a climactic vortex, but without any sense of menace or negative consequence in the controlled chaos of creation. A gleaming metallic robotic mannequin sits on a boulder contemplating the marvelous "natural" setting, peaceably co-existing with all beings—parasites and pollinators, alike; at first the robot is bare, but then covers itself in a diagonally-striped tigerish mini-dress. Amongst a deluge of falling leaves, it departs, its “spirit” stirred and refreshed, ready to hit the dance floor.

Currents 2015 website page on Island of Pal

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Because Khuza'a

Before and after the Israeli bombing in Gaza, Summer 2014. Click here for a vivid and detailed account of the battle as reported in Jewish Journal, September 4, 2014. It's an unforgettable read, a long piece by necessity.

One of the many buildings--part of the ceiling, the walls, and most of the furniture--damaged in last year's madness housed the local kindergarten, and Friends of Khuza'a New Mexico is raising money to rebuild it. Who are the friends of Khuza'a in New Mexico? You and I are. Just people who feel the need to restore a little dignity to the proceedings of being human, and who wish to provide the children a clean safe place where they can heal in community with loving teachers. 

Jeff Haas, one of the Santa Fe organizers, has relayed that the folks on the ground in Khuza'a have sent a budget for the restoration of the kindergarten. They need to buy zinc metal sheets to replace the walls, 20 chairs, five tables, and materials to build some playground equipment. They can make the needed purchases, transport the supplies to the construction site, pay the laborers, feed some volunteers, and have an operating kitty little left over for picnic supplies, food for the children, and miscellaneous sundries, all for $5,600.

The other urgent need is a water filtration system for Khuza'a Primary School, which operates in two shifts and serves 1,200 students (700 girls and 500 boys). Though it officially reopened on March 23rd, testing has revealed high biological contamination of the water in the region as a result of deteriorating infrastructure due to the bombing.The price tag for the water filtration system for the school is $13,000.

A lot of wonderful people are coming together to raise that $18,600 to cover the two projects, and events have been planned in Santa Fe and Albuquerque next weekend, May 15th and 16th to make it happen. In fact a friendly challenge has been issued and the hope is that Burquenos will contribute half of the needed amount and Santa Feans the other half. Tax deductible contributions can be made on line at this link, or checks can be sent to MECA (the Middle East Children's Alliance), 1101 8th St. Suite 100, Berkeley, CA 94710. Indicate your contribution is for the Khuza'a Project. 

Middle East Children’s Alliance had wanted to send its Director of Gaza Projects, Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician from Gaza whose extended family suffered nine deaths in the bombing, on an "Out of the Rubble" speaking tour throughout the US. But Israel has denied her exit permit visa. She has also been denied an exit permit visa to travel to England to attend to her daughter who is ill. The humanitarian appeals on her behalf so far have fallen on deaf ears.

Instead, a Santa Fean who has just returned from meeting with Dr. El-Farra will present. From the press release:
Kathleen Christison, an internationally recognized political analyst and author, will be speaking and showing slides of her recent trip to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza at Tipton Hall on May 15 from 7-9pm.

Christison is the author of three books on Palestine, including Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy and The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story.

Christison’s writings have been described as a "scrupulously honest and well-researched history of the Arab-Israeli conflict..." Christison has an acute and in-depth understanding of the Middle East, in particular, the history of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and the dispossession and displacement of indigenous Palestinian populations prior to and after the creation of the state of Israel. She was a political analyst for the CIA between 1963 and 1979 where, for more than 7 years, her work focused on the Middle East. Since her resignation from the CIA in 1979, she has dedicated herself to researching and writing about the realities of life in occupied Palestine. Christison was also a member of the National Book Critics Circle for many years and has lectured around the country and in Europe.

Also in Santa Fe on Friday, May 15th from noon to 1pm, Santa Fean Issa Malluf, a Palestinian-American percussionist featured in the video below, will perform a concert with his ensemble. There is no cost for the music, but donations for the kindergarten and water filtration system will also be happily accepted there.

The Friends of Khuza'a Albuquerque event the following night will have a slightly different flavor. “Eyewitness in Gaza: Nakba 1948 to Current Humanitarian Crisis,” will feature a presentation by Ayman Nijim and Samia Assed. Nijim has developed programs to help children and mothers in Gaza cope with occupation, displacement, and assaults by the Israeli military; and Samia Assed is a Palestinian American, activist, and board member of the Albuquerque  Peace and Justice Center.

There will be Middle Eastern snacks, live music, tabling from social justice groups, and photography. Yes, of pain, destruction but also resilience.  

The fundraising event will be held at 7-9 pm on Saturday, May 16th at the Albuquerque Mennonite Church, located at 1300 Girard Blvd NE. 

Ayman Nijim, a graduate student  in peace-building conflict transformation skills at the School for International Training in Brattleboro Vermont is one of the featured speakers on Saturday, May 16th. His wife and two children still reside in Gaza.
School for International Training in Vermon
School for International Training in Vermon

I want to thank the organizers of these events in advance. Like so many others, I find the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians unbearably agonizing (I have family in Israel--my elder sister who emigrated there under the Law of Return, three Israeli-born nephews, and first and second cousins), and I tend to avoid the pain there when possible by focusing my activisms on struggles closer to home. Until now I had never encountered the term Nakba Day, nor did I know the details of the carnage in Khuza'a, or that here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we could do anything concrete to make their situation even a little better via restoring the kindergarten class and providing clean water for the children. It's a true relief, and not just for them.

I'm eager to hear the unmediated firsthand reports and to see the pictures and videos that will be presented at next week's events. I really do appreciate the opportunity to be informed, and also to confront whatever cruelty must be confronted in community instead of alone behind a computer screen. It's important.  

I want to keep this post as short as possible in the hopes that people will at least peruse the Simone Wilson article on last year's invasion of Khuza'a.