Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thin in 2014

I am very grateful and excited to introduce WW,SW's first guest blogger in New Mexico, Colin Lincoln Holloway. I asked Colin for a bio to accompany his post and he wrote: 

CLH has lived beyond the pale of the intellectual ghettos that I was born into since I was 16, running to sit on some railroad tracks with the likes of Dan Ellsberg & Allen Ginnsberg. For the last 30 years I've called the Cow Creek Drainage, in the Upper Pecos, my home.

I believe that I woke up into this life with a deep passion, love and concern, for our beleaguered natural systems, though my first love was the ocean. I looked up from the tracks at Rocky Flats to the mountains, starting right there, and realized that the seas start in the hills. Since that time I've been intrigued and passionate about forest ecology.
Rakehell’s Return or a Clear Case for Cutting

The evening before, setting up camp, sun setting, Snow Lake lower than I’ve ever seen it, burned over along the fringes.

Those years ago, we would come here to fill our water containers, looking like strange bedraggled refugees, still wearing our chaps, sometimes our hardhats. Back then, this time of year, the place would be teeming with campers, all the spots along the loop taken up by the bright colors of tents and the bulk of RVs.

This evening, nervous, more than just a little trepidation, as we danced the tent pole dance, only one of two sets of campers there. Tomorrow I’d see it: that stretch of forest I had worked, sixteen years prior. Quaking Aspen thinning would turn out to be the last time I ran saw crews as my primary source of income. Not for lack of love for the job but for lack of a steady, reliable income.

This Calm evening belying the fury of the middle of May to the end of July when the Whitewater Baldy Complex Fire raged around the nearly 298,000 acres surrounding.

The largest fire in recorded New Mexico history.  To Date.

An afternoon’s drive through edges and hearts of the burn, scorched soil, not quite destroyed, sterilized or hydrophobic. Coming through, several miles and a bit, to the lake, passing the turnoff down to Willow Creek, bearing witness to miles of 100% mortality, that proverbial moonscape, the elk, at the height of calving season, absent from the sweep of headlights. They had seemed overcrowded, back there, where the fire hadn’t brought this expanse of hills to destruction.

All I was thinking, hoping fervently for, dark descending, while we finished setting up camp, that maybe that area, off the Bear Wallow Road, wasn’t so bad. That maybe I’d find a copse of trees, a stand, the soil would be in decent shape. Maybe only 80-90% mortality.

“Stop. Stop the car.”
Sitting there in disbelief, gawking.
“That’s the old unit boundary.  See the blue paint on that dougfir?”

I’m a naturalist, or, that is to say, I prefer to think of myself as such, in the tradition and definition of a Jefferson or Thoreau. Jefferson, who would refer to science as art. Free to thrive in the anecdotal, the raw observational, beyond the Imperial constraints, the dour restrictions, of the Empirical. In this, I am allowed miracles. I couldn’t see what was in front of me as much else.

Sixteen years ago, there was no difference of basal area, one side of the road to the other, a tangle of mixed conifer, ponderosa to fir, engleman spruce, the crowns boxing and brawling, fighting for what light, for what soil, they could.

Sure, we ran along the slopes of the northeast side of that canyon like a swarm of really ugly, really noisy bees, not on the southwest side of Quaking Aspen Creek. Sure, the road bisected the bottom and formed part of our unit boundary, a natural place for a herd of smoke eaters to take a stand against hell roaring.

Whether crews set a backfire because of the work on “our” side, or whether the fire simply broke containment, fire did romp up those slopes I had worked, those years before, low and slow, lying down and doing just what a fire should in Intermountain West, moderate elevation, mixed conifer.

Like in a story book, climbing into the lower limbs, as if pruning, staying out of the crowns, but for isolated incidents, not continuing the scorched earth mentality the fire had done, just one hundred meters away, across the creek, where mortality was 100%. I hadn’t stopped that fire, dead in its tracks, sixteen years before it happened, it ran right on through there, but where, on one side, it was a frightening thing of rage and total destruction, on the other side the fire produced only purely positive results – as if that stretch of forest had enjoyed a thoroughly refreshing shower, now invigorated and ready for another century.

    Like I said, as a naturalist, I allow myself miracles.

I’m sure there are those that battle in the trenches of the scribblers of chalk boards that might give up their empirical tendencies to agree. As there are those that might claim thinning to be logging and, therefore, counterproductive, regardless of the fact that they’ve no working definition for one or the other, like knowing pornography when they see it. As there is that annoying majority that would profess that such activity is too difficult, too expensive.

So let us consider the costs, fiduciary and beyond, starting with the $GreenFrogSkins$:

The cost of suppression, just suppression, for that fire, the Whitewater Baldy Complex was 23 million dollars for 297,845 acres.*

Although it was sixteen years prior, our bid for the drop and lop work we did was (admittedly lowball) $85 an acre. Or suppression at 77.22 an acre and thinning at 85 an acre. So, in that, it turns out that the price was comparable, thinning versus fire suppression.


Just for fire suppression, no consideration for BAER team remediation (an incredibly difficult number to find), or the equally difficult number to pin down, as to economic loss of the surrounding communities whose cash registers would be filled by the gas tanks and coolers filled by those that would be fishing on Snow Lake, backpacking and hiking on the trails into the wilderness, now closed, or the costs of damage and repair to roads and other infrastructure.


But what of the other costs?  Certainly the Ghost of Gifford Pinchot would be apoplectic for the loss of what he would perceive as so many commodities, tens of millions of board feet of lumber, lost, that could supply the engines of industry. Well, Pinchot is dead (in my view, thankfully), and so is the attitude that a tree should only be measured in dollar signs.

Here we are left with the mathematics of our era:
At what cost a forest?
At what cost carbon sequestration?

An acre of mixed conifers in the Western Cordillera Bio Structure, in New Mexico specifically, has the ability to sequester approximately 60,700 kilograms of carbon, around 67 US tons, per annum. What is that worth?*

What is the societal value of that forest? Sequestering that much carbon times the average age of trees once growing there, that ability, now stripped, irreplaceable for decades, compounded by the fact that carbon released would be by a factor, the order of magnitude, equal to the average years of sequestration, as measured by the percent of the average tree’s girth as it is related to annual growth, that burned, releasing all those years of the hard work of those trees, their carbon, into the atmosphere? As simple an example of the destructiveness of climate change feedback loops as we can get.

Can we, now, deny that our Western Forests are in great peril? That it is well worth an effort to do what we can to stave off such a disaster? How can it not be prudent to incorporate such costs into the value of our era? For myself, it always puzzles me that many folks don’t consider this, measure this. I find it a responsibility less economic than ethical. After all, we the people, as a society in a representative democracy, caused this to happen, this degradation of our forests and natural environment. I find it pointless to point fingers, struggling for self absolution, we’re here, we did it, own up to it. The time for recrimination is past.

Thing is, what’s to be done?  The time for action is upon us. Yes it would be a gamble to spend our blood and treasure on such a venture, assessing and doing all we can to bring as much health and stability to our forests. Yes it’s a gamble; plenty could go wrong in any number of ways & places, time might not be with us, slash might not have had the year or two needed to break down, a fire could be so hot it makes no difference, blight & disease might override all efforts.

Still in all, a thinned forest definitely stands a better chance of staying a stand. I fail to understand how some would rather see such awful devastation of miles of mortality rather than being annoyed by crews of saws in the woods. I fail to understand those that would argue, one scientist to another, the denizens of the chalkboards, over the historical frequency, heat, size and mortality of fires in the past, whether a certain bird could be a grand mitigator. We stand on a knife’s edge of an environmental reality.  I don’t see how a reasonable person could beg to differ.

We’ve got to look to the future, that past we’ve struggled to measure ain’t here anymore. The future of hockey stick curves whacking on our environment, the future we would have the world live. We’ve got to give our forests every chance, every second we can to adapt to the new paradigm.

The time for action is upon us. Time to drop the chalk and grab our socks. After all, there is more to be gained than lost and miracles can happen if one works like hell to make them happen.

Colin Lincoln Holloway
DeWitt’s End
Lower Colonias, NM
*"2012 Whitewater Baldy Fire Gila National Forest", Southwest Fire Science Consortium

*Baseline and Projected Future Carbon Storage and Greenhouse-Gas Fluxes in Ecosystems of the Western United States”,  USGS Professional Paper 1797, Zhiliang Zhu and Bradley C. Reed, Editors

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Hot Mess

The Hot Mess by Frances Madeson

His kisses made promises he had no intention of fulfilling. I knew that early on. But the overlapping oval of our Venn diagram—the space containing our shared spheres of interest and sensibility—though not large, glowed red chile hot.

His linguistic defenses (or were they offenses?)—anyhoo, jeepers, excuuuuse me—were curious to me. What to make of them?A kind of camp, certainly. And what is camp but a defensive aesthetic strategy? Pre-emptive self-mockage.

He said he didn't take himself that seriously, but that was either a self-deception from lack of self-knowledge or an outright lie. He's even a bit precious in that regard. He told me his middle name with a good bit of pride, I had asked him lying beside him under clean flannel sheets. “Waldo,” he said, “my uncle's name. He was a good man.” His voice grew deeper, fell quieter, remembering that connection with that good man from long ago.

His breath was sour the first time we made love, post-nasal drip, and I'm not proud of this, but every time he tried to kiss me I turned my head away, until he stopped trying. But the next time, at his place, he laid a kiss on me that made the world stop turning. His tongue, slow and thick, took possession (no other way to say it) of my open (no other way to say this, either) yearning mouth. He termed them “perfect” kisses.For me they were suggestive of a depth worth probing, though I never found it—buried too deeply under all his many rituals.

Set in his ways. His ways kept him safe. Safe from what? From the likes of me.

I kept him at a healthy distance. “You don't text! Wow,” he said. Our first date he made a stark comment. “You think very highly of yourself.” I couldn't deny it. Having exceeded my own limitations so many times, having conquered so many fears, I can practically grow on demand, in real time. Another morning, he said, “You're a central figure.” Which is a little different from putting me on a pedestal.

He made me feel very beautiful in bed, served me there like a queen. He held me close, tight as we shuddered together. He laced his fingers in mine and twisted and turned my hands making me feel his considerable strength. Pushing into me, away from me, pulling, then resisting. His signature gesture, this push-pull, and how I loved it. I rubbed his chest, feeling his heartbeat. “You've found my nipples,” he said. Grateful. He placed his fingers over mine on them and applied pressure, my professor, instructing me. “You don't have to be so gentle.”

He invited me to balloon fiesta and then canceled at the last minute, ruining everything just as he intended.

There was another man, hovering in the wings. Bearded, long still-dark hair tied back in a coated rubber band, Samurai style. Too young, but I sampled him, more than that. I couldn't help it, he had thrown himself in my arms. Another heat seeker. He did things with his tongue on my ear to make me forget Romulus's perfect kisses. Almost.

Romulus introduced me to his former student, now a professor like him, but in a college back east. A lovely girl, a lesbian as it happens. “She's the daughter I would have wanted,” he confided, really meaning it. I peeked at a picture of them together on his Facebook, her graduation day, his arm was around her shoulder, paternally. I was happy for them both. I wondered who had taken the picture.

The last time we were at his house, he turned on the television. Football, so much more brutal then I ever remembered it. Gladitorial, we agreed on this. Then hockey. “They're so speedy,” I said about the players. “Yep,” he said, “those guys can stop on a dime.”

Romulus of myth was raised by a she-wolf. Mine too, though a different kind (speaking plainly, his mother was a drunk). He's careful with alcohol, my Romulus, but reckless with aspertame. His poor, poor brain I thought, caressing his shaved head, my fingers floating over the little skin tags here and there.

His house in Nob Hill—a long-term rental, empty walls, TVs in every room, a meditation on beige. It's a trap I thought when I saw no art on the walls, a tar baby to a commonplace domesticity. He wants a woman to want to envision herself complementing his environment, but only in the abstract. He speaks of correlates, however, the correlation calculation only works well for relationships that follow a straight line, and he'll never allow that; his herky-jerky scheduling will insure non-linearity. One of his cats (I couldn't tell you which one) chased a starling inside the house. I slammed the door to his office, the cat on one side of the door, the wounded bird trapped inside the relentless beigeness.

When he came home from teaching his graduate seminar, I told him about it. Matter of factly, he unlatched the window screen from the outside and released the wounded bird, watching it fly off. He swept the pile of feathers, some of them bloodied, into his backyard where the breeze took them. You can see the Sandias from his patio. Sunset turns them to coral, beautiful even with the sagging power lines in view.

So many ruffled feathers undone from such a small bird.

Still sweeping, he said: “It comes with the territory.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

A New Political Woman

i am not proud
of being a woman and having lived
as a man

to hide behind
white cis male privilege
wearing a man's face and body

feeling disgusted

i look in the mirror
and see
blood red bathwater

--Polina Smutko

No More Pants Roles For Her

In Santa Fe--the “City Different”--we celebrate difference, or so we say. Well, what could be more different than a natural born woman strapped at birth with a freakin' useless cock, or a natural born man saddled with a bleedin' pussy?

Polina Smutko's childhood would make an almost classic example of how not to raise a Trans child. The things that should have been lavished upon her—love, respect, ample support for her humanity, especially given the quirk of biology with which she was endowed (she was born with a penis)—were not given, even stintingly.

Afraid they were raising a pervert, Polina's parents forcibly reared her as a little boy, even encouraging her and her brother to have fist fights to reinforce her alleged maleness, turning the siblings on each other like two cocks in the ring. The enforced violence didn't “make a man of her”--how could it? But, damn if she's not a fighter, and a tough-minded one.

Someone else can tell you more details of her tortured adolescence, the descent into depressions, delusions, even psychosis—they're important to tell. The relationships lost, jobs and cities let go of, the tumult and disruptions, the regrets of not breaking free of the shaming bonds that kept her living a corrosive lie. “I missed out on being a young woman, I missed out on a lot.” Another correspondent can tell a more complete chronicle of the thoughts of suicide, the grim statistics around suicide attempts: 1.6% in the general population as contrasted with 41% of the Trans community. And as Polina has reminded me, this too is a form of violence.

"I thought I would be alone and unemployable."

But what turned my head in her direction when I heard her remarks at The State of Female Justice in New Mexico panel, was that simultaneous with commencing to live life openly as a mature woman only nine months ago, an activist was wholly born--welcome to the fold, Polina, darling! In addition to being a lecturer for the Speakers Bureau of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, she has an ambitious To-Do List for us here in Santa Fe, which I'm honored to present to you--and hot damn, if every single item on the list doesn't make perfect sense, isn't totally doable, and wouldn't be a blast to help manifest!

Mayoral Candidates, Yes You, We Need to Have A Little Chat

As Bushee, Gonzales and Dimas, all know, there's a T in the LGBTQ constituency. When we talk about inclusion and intersectionality, as it sometimes behooves us to do, there is no one more prepared to break those things down for you than Polina Smutko. And do so with a whole lot of grace. She's not so hard to find, she's the Director of Collections at the Folk Art Museum, a museum that is not only an International Site of Conscience, but that has been a supportive workplace for Polina throughout her metamorphosis. “You know, I've been a woman all my life, “ Polina told me. “Transition isn't really the right word. It's more of a sloughing off a gender that's been forced upon you. It's a getting rid of all the manifestations of that, rather than becoming.”

Woman With a Plan—Seven Areas of Needed Attention

Polina sez: Awareness of who we are in the community. We have a cultural competency training we would like to bring to the various agencies of the city government: police, fire, EMTs, hospital workers. We've done it a number of times already and we know it to be an effective training.

Polina sez: Education in the Schools. We want children to be taught that we're people. We want “Trans-friendly” schools as they have in Portland, San Francisco and now Los Angeles, California. These are schools in which Trans kids are treated as their proper gender, not on the basis of their genitals. This means access to facilities—locker rooms, etcetera. It's very important. Those people now growing up will one day have children. There is a 1% chance that those children will be Trans. It's important that they respect, love and not reject the child, and not subject the child to abuse. If the schools are treating the children with respect, then they have a chance.

Polina sez: Violence. 50% of all LGBT violence is against Trans people, however 90% of that violence is against Trans women, and 70 % against Trans women of color. So you know it's out there and happening. We want to become more aware of what's happening.

Polina sez: We want gender-neutral restrooms in all city buildings. We already have them at Santa Fe Community College, specifically separate facilities from men's rooms and women's rooms. It's more than symbolic, it's practical, and the city can probably get ADA funds to finance their construction. Arizona tried to ban us from using public restrooms entirely!

Polina sez: Trans prisoners are currently assigned to prison based on the genitals they possess. But it's not safe for Trans women to be put in with men. It's not safe, they are assaulted. And it's just as bad in the jails. (Most Trans prisoners are in for prostitution.)

Polina sez. We want an awareness campaign in New Mexico
similar to the one in DC. We want signs splashed on bus stops and at airports, a whole PR campaign. We want to use local people as much as we can.

“Those that went before me that were brave...I should have been that brave, been there with them to fight that fight.” --Polina Smutko

Who amongst us hasn't had a similar regret? All we have is now.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Fun With Finn

 Frances Madeson – novelist, playwright

frances madeson.pic.dec.12.13.IMG_1194 (3) BW
1 V. S. Naipaul has declared there are not any important writers anymore, Philip Roth has predicted the novel will become a cult activity, Peter Stothard has asked if fiction writing simply used to be better, Cullen Murphy, David Shields, Lee Seigel, and Geoff Dyer have all stated that non-fiction is superior to fiction. The list of people of letters who apparently have lost faith in literary fiction goes on an on; it is clear that an elementary questioning of the novel is not a passing cultural phase. What is your opinion? Does the novel have a future? If so, what kind? And will e-technology alter the very form of the novel? If so, how?

I am reading a novel now, started a couple of days ago. And I do feel like I’m in a cult, so Roth may be right on about that. It’s called spaceboythenovel, and it’s by this retired St. John’s professor I keep bumping into all around town. I’ve seen him at a lecture on Hegel at his former college, a showing of Orpheus at the newly revived Jean Cocteau Theater, and most recently at The Santa Fe Hotel where, improbably, he was serving as the auctioneer (in full patter) of one item that didn’t sell at any price, an incredibly awkward little auction held before a talk Henry Wright gave on his archeological digs in Madagascar last summer—mice bones and rice seeds and cane-decorated pottery shards recovered from the depths of Time.

Afterward, the novelist opened his briefcase and laid the sole copy he had in there on me, and without even reading it I felt a little Nabokovian tingle travel up my spine. Excitement and delight in the gift we give each other when we live inside our creativity and share the fruits of that aliveness with others. So, yeah, it’s a cult. But it’s a damn fine cult!

I imagine novels will be most prized in the post-peak oil future coming soon to a planet near you, Finn, especially big fat ones with lots of pages. People will need them for fuel, to reinforce the soles of their boots, and to stuff in the linings of their coats. E-books won’t help much in this regard; pixels will be a memory, like old Tzarist rubles. Of course that future is already here for many people. I visited a friend in Las Vegas, New Mexico the other day, and he told me that for warmth his neighbors burn garbage, burn tires. He knows, because he’s smelled it—the refuse, the rubber. I expect those conditions obtain in parts of South Korea, as well.

2 Are the very significant structural changes taking place in the publishing industry having an effect on novel writing? If so, how?

I don’t reckon it’s much fun to be toiling in the publishing industry at present. And misery does love company. To the extent I come in contact with them I find novels from corporate publishing to be often toxic, oftener dreary, lifeless, one way or another suspect and unreadable—no rhythm, no challenge, no wit. But of course I’m very selective, that’s why I’m here.
3 Is the cutting back of mid-lists and a general cautiousness about taking risks on new or relatively unknown writers affecting the caliber of writing that does manage to get into print?

The effects of people losing their livelihoods, their dreams, or both, can be traumatizing. From my encounters with NYC publishing professionals, and please remember I lived in Manhattan for twenty-seven years, most of them are on medication for depression and anxiety, or both.

I did a reading at The Sunday Salon reading series with Tony D’Souza—my first book, his second. He confided in me, sweetly, that he’d just learned he was going to be a father. Congratulations, I’m so happy for you, I said to him. I’ve been criticized for being effusive, but in this case it was warranted. We were both smiling, standing close; it was so bitter cold that night, everyone was huddling–joyful. Tony told me that I was the first person in his NYC lit acquaintance to have been glad for him. And worse, agent and publisher types had told him that maybe it wasn’t such a good career move to have the baby now, maybe he should wait until after the next book, those sorts of things.

Well, like I say, I had lived there a long time, so my ears didn’t fall off at the telling. But, Finn, they don’t even understand how crass they’ve become.

I can still hear the hurt in the voice of a novelist whose publisher told her that any future works would have to be published under a nom de plume, her own name no longer held cachet; they respected her talent but not her saleability.

Or the shock of betrayal of another writer whose agent had fixed the auction of her book to her detriment, simply ignoring the higher bids. Fortunately she was tipped off and able to undo the damage, damage to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

Or another who was already mentally spending the six-figure advance under discussion at Knopf—enough back and forth had gone down to induce a certain amount of justifiable fantasizing—only to have the whole thing nullified by Sonny Mehta. She spent the better part of a year in bed watching Law and Order re-runs, popping Paxil.

4 Do you have an author’s website? Does it help you sell books?

I don’t, but I blog and I suppose I should mention somewhere on the blog that my book is still in print. And of course it’s featured on www.carolmrp.net, but that’s not been substantially updated since publication in 2007, which I kind of love—website as snapshot of a moment in time.

5 In your heart of hearts, how do you feel about running an author’s website? Do you feel its a labour of love – or an annoying imposition? Or something else altogether?

For my next book, I’ll probably do something on Facebook if I’m still enjoying my Facebook as much as I am now.

6 You once commented at Dan Green’s site that the the idea that literary fiction “is a meritocracy is risible”. Is the selection system for novel and short story manuscripts fair? Should it be made blind?

I probably wanted to use the word risible in a sentence. I don’t think I ever had occasion to before, and it’s such an authoritative word. Not everything I wrote there made total sense (though that I think was a cogent remark). My nascent blog commentary, I regard it now as almost a kind of asemic writing that got me from point x to point y in my intellectual growth. And everyone was very kind to me, I think, because they could see me working so hard to grow. I had written this fabulous, bold and fiercely comedic feminist novel in almost total ignorance of the great post-Modernists and meta-fictionists, and to properly join the conversation about literature going forward I had to remediate that lack.

That site had me running weekly, sometimes daily, to the Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library to read the one copy of Sukenick’s 98.6 or Federman’s Double or Nothing or Kathy Acker or Percival Everett or Robert Coover or Donald Barthelme or James Purdy or David Markson or William Gaddis or Stanley Elkin or Gilbert Sorrentino, authors not very well-known except to seekers.

Those blistering sometimes quasi-ecstatic reading experiences opened worlds, reorienting me toward the expanded possibilities of literature that had been hidden from me. I understand that the harsh critique some of us make of corporate publishing can sound like sour grapes from outsiders barred by the professional gatekeepers who know best, until you read those other far more fascinating underground works. Then it’s hard not to keep quiet.
It was a special time in the litblogosphere, and not just for me.

7 Are factors such as racism, sexism, ageism, classism and/or looksism factors prejudicing the choices agents and publishers make? If so, can these be ranked in terms of perniciousness? Or is all of this irrelevant insofar as selection systems are either always fair enough or always unfair enough that one should — as a conscript of letters — soldier on?

Perhaps so, judging from the results. Racism is the worst because it’s so totally unjustifiable and it has caused so much grotesque suffering. No, I don’t think it is irrelevant, Finn. I think the current system should be plowed under. We can do so much better by writers and readers alike, and have such better books to enjoy reading. In my view we don’t have a publishing industry problem or a book selection problem, it’s far more serious and fundamental. You could say we have a democracyism problem and a capitalism problem—too little of the first, far too much of the latter.

8 There is something of a European — particularly French — feel to some of your work, with its free associations and (for want of a better phrase) psychoanalytically-informed recklessness of style. At the same time, some of your work is quintessentially American. Does this jibe with your own thinking about your work? Who are your influences?

This question really excites me, Finn. Because when I first saw it I was listening to a lot of Mahler, so when I read “psychoanalytically-informed recklessness of style” I was, like, fuck yeah! Yes, as a teenager some of the first literary works I reached for were works by Colette, Nin and De Beauvoir (her Blood of Others is still on my shelf). I read the men too—Gide, Camus and Sartre—but thrilled to the women, primarily because of their explorations and openness around female sexuality. I could probably draw a straight line between DeBeauvoir’s themes of personal political responsibility and my novel Cooperative Village. Zora Neale Hurston was/is a huge influence because of her earthy exuberance and anthropological sensibility—an exquisite kind of listening. There’s a certain relentlessness in works like Knut Hamsun’s Hunger that I’ve integrated, as well. I can’t help thinking the many—too many— holocaust narratives I’ve grappled with—Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life, for example—both informed me early on about well, you know, “humanity,” and helped me personally to go for broke as a writer. Ambition for something way beyond personal gain.

Caryl Churchill’s unapologetic intellect and engagement with big themes in a carnivalesque style were a revelation to me after the domestic melodramas of Lillian Hellman and Wendy Wasserstein’s neurotic shtick. Living in Manhattan I saw productions of Top Girls, Fen, Cloud Nine, and Mad Forest, and not just once. I studied playwriting with Tina Howe in the period Pride’s Crossing was opening at Lincoln Center—the play, about swimming the English channel, ended with a muscular headlong leaping dive into the unknown but wet future, not unlike the protagonist in Cooperative Village. The Diaries of Judith Malina—1947-1957 are a record of the great risks she took in life and art and serve as an artifactual bridge between daring theatre-making, living and belle-lettres. She signed a copy for me at the Gotham Book Mart back in the day: “To Frances, In the hope that this glimpse of the past gives you a little moment of shared experiences with me—to bring us closer. Love, Judith”

9 According to media reports, e-book sales now represent a significant percentage of overall sales. But small bookstores see them as more a threat to their survival than anything else, and a lot of book people remain print people. Are you enthusiastic about e-books? Do they hold the potential for a renaissance in literary publishing? Or are they over-rated and too susceptible to piracy?

It’s not piracy I worry about so much as potential future tampering with the text. After the outrageous and cowardly erasure of the word nigger from Twain’s classic Huck Finn, I started to fear for the future integrity of my own work, which also has an artful use of that scapegoated word. Could it be sanitized too? Steven Augustine (of Berlin), one of the foremost contemporary fiction writers using the black American experience as his ostensible subject, compared my writing in that passage to (something like) “drops of mercury dancing on a sizzling skillet.” I really wouldn’t want to lose the text’s ability to create that effect.

10 What do you think of literary prizes? As Jason Cowley has commented, they reduce our culture’s ability to think in a critically complex fashion? Do they suggest, “this book is worth reading and all these others aren’t?”

In Farmington, Missouri, where I recently lived for two years, four months, and twenty-four days (but who’s counting?), I’d go into my insurance agent’s office, and he’d have prizes all over the walls and shelves—best agent, community service awards, sports trophies, etc. The shining brass placques were mounted alongside the antlers and stuffed heads of the creatures he’d hunted. These were there to inspire confidence, not only in him personally as he relieved his clients of hefty payments for auto, life and real property insurances, but also confidence in the legitimacy of the industry as a whole, to psychologically mitigate the pain of the rip-off.

Same dealio with lit prizes.

11 What are you working on now that you’re excited about?

I’m excited to be blogging again, my powers seem to be increasing in that regard. Reviving the blog was a result of being in South Korea and wanting to honor my experiences there by sharing what I found valuable. And Finn, having been in your part of the world I feel I can feel your work a little better. That I have a fuller sense of the atmospherics, the street life you depict in your own fictions.

I’m in docent training at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, so I’m intensively immersed in learning how to read her visionary works more completely, the better to help others have a richer experience encountering the art she brought forward. It’s expanding my perceptual powers, and you know that’s going to translate into some powerful writing—descriptively and compositionally. That’s the hope, anyway.

Plus, the activism we’re doing here throughout New Mexico with community rights ordinances (the CELDF model) is revolutionary. So, I’m living that dream too.

Lastly, I’m working on myself—mind, body and spirit. Particularly on acceptance and enjoying life more and more and more and more, even as it slips away.

bio.Bio: If I were one to rest on my laurels, I guess it’d be these:
 I’m the author of the novel Cooperative Village and have adapted and performed the work in a one-woman show of the same name. I blog at Written Word, Spoken Word where I sometimes publish my own short fictions. I published a free alternative community newspaper in the Missouri Bible Belt for a brief but charged while. I’m proud of the plays I’ve written and performed in. I’ve led social justice campaigns; I hope to do more of that. I’m pretty good at it—helping people, myself included, find their courage and stick to it. I live in an adobe casita in a high desert of savage beauty. Oftentimes, in the dead of night, I hear foxes tearing their prey from limb to limb. It’s wild here. I’m changing.

Republished from Finn's Blog

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Come, All Ye Losers

My losing entry to the Santa Fe Reporter Writing Contest 2013 follows. All other losers are invited to send in their losing submissions for possible publication here. What have you got to lose? The theme was "Come Quick the Revolution," and contestants had to somehow incorporate into their stories the following words: "blasting," "elfin" and "gynarchy."

Event Planner
 Frances Madeson 

It was my inaugural gig as official Event Coordinator for the Sarah Baartman People's Imaging Center of Santa Fe, and by any measure I was failing miserably. The white wine was a tad too warm, and the red, chilled to a palate-numbing temperature. I hadn't heard anyone bitching as of yet, but still-full plastic tumblers of both the pinot noir and the pinot grigio were being abandoned at the edges of the room, littering tables and pedestals wherever a cup could be crammed in. And worse, the celebratory buzz I'd hope to hear building over time was not reaching anything approaching a crescendo. You couldn't even get the wine right, I verbally flogged, blasting myself for my ridiculous fuckup before someone else did.

We were gathered at the ribbon-cutting gala celebrating the opening of El Museo de la metafisica, which was to house the People's MRI machine. Largely because of our Leader's exertions, the excellent people of Santa Fe and environs had come to hold these truths self-evident (and I'm paraphrasing): 1) Soon we'll have to be able to defend ourselves against neuro-weaponry: memory erasure, compelled truth telling: invasions of privacy we've not yet imagined, but that've been imagined for us. 2) When Power, using MRI technology, lies to us about our own brains we have to be able to contradict those lies. 3) And, we need to get busy writing our own stories about their brains.

 So you'd think folks would be psyched to be here, wouldn't you? But I couldn't help noticing that a lot of guests, though present, were not bothering to pick up their name tags which I'd stayed up till two the previous morning personally calligraphying, and I was suffering a little over that, too. Then the PA system, which I'd checked and triple-checked went on the fritz. No one was even within ten feet of the mic when, of its own accord, the amplifier emitted a cacophony of feedback noise. At the first screech, even before you could say Venus Hottentot, one of the guests cracked wise about Mercury being in retrograde, and that's when I started to sweat. In fact my hand was so sopping wet by the time I had to yank the amplifier's power cord out of the wall to stop the din, I feared a mild electrocution, which I was starting to consider that maybe I deserved, given all the snafus.

Then one of the board members who I'd seated at the “Frontal Cortex” table wanted to sit at the “Hippocampus” table and wanted me to be the one to switch the place cards. When I balked she said, “Santa Fe Lesbian drama, I don't expect you to understand. Just please switch the cards. You've got me seated next to my ex's ex, and we're both trying to get her back!”

A comedy of errors, somehow the ribbon for the ribbon-cutting had wandered off, and so I scurried around on the hunt for something else our Leader could ceremonially sever. While I was on the lookout for a sympatico patron with a bolo tie, she began her remarks...
“This ideathat the people organize themselves to buy a top-of-the-line MRI machine with all the bells and whistleswe knew to be an extremely sound one, and one whose Time had come. Further we understood that we had to immediately begin to recruit people capable, willing and eager to counteract the dark uses and purposes to which Power can and likely already is deploying MRI technology for mind control, torture and state suppression. Through the People's researches, we are on a collective hunt for that sweet spot that will transport us to a place where these evil projects simply have no context, and will wither from their own irrelevance—and merely served as chimeras to jolt us to a new awakening. Here in the bosom of El Museo de la metafisica, we take our stand in the land of visionaries.”

With those lofty sentiments I looked around the room to see if any of the levitators among us had achieved liftoff. Our irrepressible fund raising chair joined our Leader under the spotlight to throw in his two cents:
“And nota bene, we didn't fucking have no bake sales, no car washes and trivia nights, no raffles, neither. Once we realized how fucked we were on every level without our own MRI set-up, it really didn't take long to get to goal. Me and her made a list of people who were here in New Mexico for the right reasons, folks with deep pockets, or access to them. We knocked on their doors and didn't leave their solariums without gynormous checks. Because finally, we've got an innovative project that has the potential to flatten power relations. That's our fucking mission statement, if anyone cares to know it: to get Power's heavy boot off the back of our necks. Oops, I better shut my trap or we'll lose our 501(c)3 designation.”

The Museum Director stepped right up to offer her thoughts.
“That we housed the People's Imaging Center of Santa Fe deep inside the new museo was a further confirmation that nothing less than genius was operative here. Even before the building had been purchased and the re-model completed, the museo had taken a firm hold in the people's imaginations. Finally a museum with a focus on metaphysics to interpret the many alternative modalities practiced with skill and mastery locally. With the in-house MRI, we'll be able to delve into these mysteries with a previously unimagined depth.”

The oxytocin was coursing through our bodies. Nobody seemed to mind about there not being a ribbon cutting and I gave the guy's wife back his tie and she put it in her bejeweled evening bag with the diamond spider clasp. The elfin couple for whom I had previously arranged that their meals be liquified let me know they weren't going to be staying for dinner after all, but wondered if they could take their food to go. Naturally I assented, but despaired of finding a thermos.

In the kitchen, one of the finest chefs in all of the Land of Enchantment, one known to run her shipshape shop like an absolute gynarchy, was explaining to her sous chefs as they prepared the risotto with porcinis harvested from Santa Fe forest by yours truly that...: “If there's anything that the rise of neuro-technology tells us, it's that we have to immediately rid ourselves of two rotten dishes: Capitalism and the State. ” This prompted one of her garlic-pressing minyans to ask, “What will we eat instead, chef?” To which she answered, “I'm not sure. Something tastier. Maybe we'll reorganize all governance around the concept of the watershed, what's actually sustainable in the bio-region. We'll figure it out together. Okay, you can start plating this. Call the servers.”

Servers?! So there was one more detail I had somehow managed to overlook. I had neglected to hire waitstaff to serve the food! Feeling foolish indeed, I rounded up some conscripts from among the hungry guests, and in no time everyone had their hot meal of whole grain inflected with the tenderest of shrooms, laced with just a trace of golden saffron.

When the last spoon stopped its clanking on the last china bowl, we passed out the sweets and headed towards the chamber where our MRI machine was. To get there we walked through the Crystal exhibit hall, careful to duck under the swinging pendula. Some of us stopped in the Tarot exhibition rooms to peek in the non-glare cases containing over two dozen original Italian cards from the fifteenth century on loan from the Pierpont Morgan Library. The Astrology Hall was a many splendored thing, the Zodiac wondrously presented in three dimensions with the most adorable live goat tethered to a bench in the Capricorn section.

We entered the MRI room outfitted to be a large and welcoming Bedouin tent, redolent of cardamon. A gauzy diaphanous curtain hung over the People's magnetic resonance imaging machine, which was bathed in a white light of expectancy and open-ended possibility. None of these sensory embellishments were necessary, though. We were already in love; our cup of serotonin did runneth over.

Our Leader drew back the curtain and there it was, our brand new MRI machine in all its glorypristine and glistening! She unzipped her boots, gracefully slid inside, and spoke from that horizontal vantage point as we huddled ever closer not wishing to miss even one echoing word.

“We are in a race, race, race...against Time, Time, Ti... The human brain, brain, brain too...is a com, com, commons. ”

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Crescit eundo

New Mexico is currently ranked 50th among the U.S. states in child well-being, or obversely, we rank first in child-suffering. In a rational political environment those responsible for such a disgraceful result would be impeached for dereliction of duty. But in the unsustainable political climate in which we are quasi-functioning, our governor is poised to be on the national ticket for one of the reigning corporate goon squads.

The best we can say about our state's ignominious ranking is that none of the hundred or so attendees at The State of Female Justice in New Mexico panel on Sunday, November 17th, presented by One Billion Rising for Justice Santa Fe, the New Mexico Women and Girls Network, and the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, can reasonably have any illusions about the efficacy of working for reforms within the current system. In fact, panelist Corrine Sanchez of Tewa Women United characterized that system as: “An industrial non-profit complex in which our funding sources are invested in our culture of violence.” 

Emblematic of that violence, Bette Fleishman (New Mexico Women’s Justice Project) told us that New Mexico's women's prison population is the fastest-growing in the nation. The current women's prison is privately operated by a for-profit corporation—Corrections Corporation of America—where 77% of the 510 women currently incarcerated there have been placed on strong psychiatric meds, to control them as a captive slave labor pool for others' profit. But even on its own oppressive terms CCA is failing: Due to the low quality of the cheapest possible meds, side effects are rampant, some of the medicated women are acting out, and they're ending up in solitary. A bad metric.

Bette's current priority—she makes the 170 mile round trip drive from Rio Rancho to the prison in Grants weekly—is “to identify who shouldn't be there, who should be returned to the community?” She exerts herself in full knowledge that an additional facility with the capacity to imprison 850 more female prisoners in NM is in the planning stages. Whose daughters will fill those cells, do we think? Shall we tell Guadalupe Angeles, the soft-spoken Mexican immigrant who courageously stood at the podium and told us her story of privation and struggle, to hide her daughters from the state? That the state is planning, no, banking on, incarcerating them and other girls just like them?

In truth,I would not even be writing this post if Cecile Lipworth, Managing Director of Campaigns and Development for (Eve Ensler's) VDAY and lead organizer of the event on the 17th as well as the upcoming one next Valentine's Day, had not assured me that at the core of these efforts there will be serious political demands made to Power. I understood from her assurances that these are not meant to be exclusively feel good events, though it does feel good, really good, to forge friendships and community in political struggle for justice. (There was not a woman on that podium who I would not dearly love to interview for this blog.)

The panel discussion, which was filmed and will be available on the One Billion Rising's website after Thanksgiving according to Cecile, has inspired in me a series of questions:

How in good conscience can we Rise, Release and Dance—the tag line of One Billion Rising 2014—knowing that 850 of the daughters of Tewa Women, Adelante, El Valle Women's Collaborative, Esperanza Shelter, Young Women United, and Solace Center have already been slotted to people Power and Greed's new state-of the-art plantation? How exactly will shaking our booties at the Roundhouse this Valentine's Day forcefully give the lie to the “inevitability” of our daughters', sisters', mothers' fates in the narrative the prison-profiteers (and those in the Roundhouse and elsewhere who love them) have already written for certain New Mexicans?

In other words, and building on the real success of the Respect Albuquerque Women's electoral victory, can we Rise, Release and Dance our way into shutting this new prison down even before it's operative? And if we agree that preventing 850 of our sisters from being snatched into the modern-day State slavery apparatus is a worthy goal, what kind of a network would we have to build to get that accomplished?