Thursday, July 2, 2020

Flashback to 2017: El Paso: The Tumblewords Project: Introduction and Smeltertown

My Saturday habit while I lived in El Paso. The original post here.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

El Paso: The Tumblewords Project: Introduction and Smeltertown

The Tumblewords Project didn't hit my radar until June. A pity.  Because with my very first mid-day Saturday attendance at the weekly writing group, I lamented silently, "Why didn't I discover this before?!"

It only got my attention the first time because of the magic words Smeltertown. Where did I even see the phrase in connection with Tumblewords? The library? Social media? An upcoming-events email? No idea.

I first learned about Smeltertown when I took the guided hike up Mt Cristo Rey. Then I saw an announcement about a photographer with an exhibit of her photos at Smeltertown, but because of a scheduling conflict, I couldn't go. So when I saw the third reference to Smeltertown, I had to check it out.

This article isn't about Smeltertown; it's about the Tumblewords Project. But the leader for this particular Saturday's meeting - Carolyn Rhea Drapes - took us, in our imagination, to the Smeltertown of her youth. Like: 
  • "La Smelta."
  • "Every morning abuela would hang her canary cages on the branches of the cottonwood tree." 
  • Tiny houses as big as an efficiency apartment. 
  • Some people had electric, water and gas. 
  • For a long time, had communal toilets. 
  • "Everything felt caked in sulfur." 
  •  "Those yellow smells had no chance of entering [abuela's] kitchen."


Tumblewords describes its process thus:
The format involves preliminary announcements, the presenter speaking for maybe ten minutes, writing on the spot, and then going around the room and each participant reading aloud. We like to have three rounds of writing and reading aloud, but depending on the number of participants who show up any one workshop, there may only be time for two rounds or even one. Presenters are given free range to present however or whatever they want, as long as the primary amount of time is allocated to writing and reading aloud. Some presenters read the works of writers they revere, show slides of their art work or the art of others, bring in visual art, play or perform music, or read their own work. The participants are free to write in whatever form or on whatever topic they choose, notwithstanding the topic of presentation.

Some rules:
  • You write and you share what you write. 
  • No whining about the quality of your work; at most you can say: "This is shit." But then you gotta read it aloud anyway. 
  • No critiques.

The goal is to write. Simple as that. 

Donna Snyder is the founder and matriarch of the group - it's a remarkable feat to have nurtured a writing group since its birth in 1995. A succinct synopsis about Donna: " ... a lawyer by profession, an activist by inclination and a poet by compulsion, has an extensive list of published work to her credit ... "

I always feel welcomed and supported at the workshops.

And holy moly, there is huge talent in that library room every Saturday!


Getting back to this day's work, as led by Carolyn Rhea Drapes: 

From Carolyn's sharing about Smeltertown, the canaries in the cottonwood tree pricked my senses.

In two writing sprints, I created the following (since edited): 

First sprint:

In the time of the killing in the lushness, the richness of Rwanda, did the birds continue to sing? 

Is it true that the foreign tamarisks crowd and kill the native cottonwoods, usurping their space and water like they say they do? 

Of what use is this man-made border over which the giant Christ looks with his arms outstretched, which separates sisters, but which birds and tamarisks and cottonwoods flaunt with impunity?
Mt. Cristo Rey, El Paso, Texas. October 2016.

Of what use is this wall that hems El Paso, choked like the Rio Grande, cobbled and parched? 

Does the big Christ not shake his head in bemusement when he looks at the rusty wall that separates the sisters he made? 

US border between El Paso and Juarez. November 2016.

Some of abuela's canaries died and they were not replaced. 


Portal, Arizona. March 2013.

Second sprint: 

Outside the red library in Portal, New Mexico, bird feeders hang from leafy cottonwoods. Books in a cart enjoy the air outside. It is fine to sit in the shade of the cottonwoods and listen to the birds sing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Word of the Year 2020: Build 7: Trail Building

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. January 2013.

People who undertake long journeys fascinate and inspire me. I've shared some folks' long journeys here and below:
  1. Long Journeys: Movies, Part 1
  2. Long Journeys: Movies, Part 2
  3. Icy Journeys
  4. Movies: Famous American Trails
  5. Cycling Across America
  6. Rootless: Long Walk: "This Wild Call From Inside Me"
  7. Long Journeys: The River ... And a Sidebar on Journeywomen
  8. Long Journeys: Tracks, About a Woman's Walk Across Western Australia

Why do trails inspire me so? Well, there's the wanderlust, of course, and the curiosity. What lies over there, wherever "over there" is.

But more than that, there is the pushing of boundaries, overcoming fear, solving problems, and surviving hardships. The accomplishment.

In the context of this year's word, my focus today is on building a trail.

An important age-related milestone looms.

Building a sustainable, real-life trail requires the designer and builder to acknowledge the terrain, the surface composition, the climate, and how all of these interact with the trail user's (i.e., my) physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities now and in the future.

As you likely gathered from other Build posts this year, the age thing is on my mind.

I kinda have an idea of what I want my future aged life looks like.

But I'm thinking about, imagining, and designing what my trail will look like between the Rootless Here and the Rooted There.

If I visualize a long trail such as the Appalachian Trail, there are sections, each with different geographic and climate features. I can divvy up my through hike into sections, too:
  1. Money
  2. Health
  3. Relationships
  4. Service and activism
  5. Creative life
  6. Rootless goals I want to achieve

Imagining and designing these trail sections is a worthy endeavor for the rest of this year.

Castlewood State Park, Missouri. April 2018.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Flashback to 2016: Antigua, Guatemala: The Scourge of Pee

Travel does, indeed, expand one's knowledge, as evidenced in this post back in 2016.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Antigua, Guatemala: The Scourge of Pee

I learned something in Antigua that was gobsmacking.

Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

Men's habit of peeing on the exterior building walls in Antigua is damaging the buildings. Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Center, so this is serious business.

It's not just in Antigua. Consider Germany's Ulm Minister, the church with the tallest tower in the world. "Persistent peeing is damaging the historic structure."

Peeing on the limestone walls of the 250-year-old Alamo in Texas is a serious crime because of the damage it does to the historic structure.

In Berlin, the city created a force of "urine police" to protect historic buildings. "Human urine is so abrasive and corrosive that, over time, it acts like a sandblaster," said a scientist.

It's also a problem in Chester, England, which sits atop Roman ruins.

And in Plymouth, England, for a 250-year old synagogue.

There is apparently a Facebook page that has photos of men caught in the act of peeing on walls in Antigua. It's a shaming page. I haven't been able to track it down.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Word of the Year 2020: Build 6: Elevation

On Build thus far

Word of the Year 2020: Build 1: After the Floods
Word of the Year 2020: Build 2: Fronterista
Word of the Year 2020: Build 3: "House"
Word of the Year 2020: Build 4: Chosens
Word of the Year 2020: Build 5: It Takes a Village

Until I began this post, I'd not heard the term, post-traumatic growth.

It is when a person arrives at a post-traumatic mental place where they thrive after a transformation in their worldview.

Following trauma, a person may regain their pre-trauma equilibrium. (And that, by itself, is a tremendous positive.)

Post-traumatic growth, though, from Association Between Resiliency and Post-Traumatic Growth in Firefighters ....
PTG is more than just a return to equilibrium after an experienced traumatic situation. This phenomenon indicates that as a result of an experienced situation a person underwent some kind of transformation and achieved a higher level of functioning than before the trauma.
.... distinguish the two concepts of resilience and PTG, emphasizing that development following trauma results from transformation, which means cognitive rebuilding [emphasis mine]. Resiliency assumes an ability to move forward with life after adversity, whereas PTG involves a movement beyond pre-trauma levels of adaptation. Moreover, researchers stress that resilient individuals do not necessarily have to experience PTG, as not all traumatic events are subjectively identified as challenging.

[PTG] does not exclude the occurrence of adverse effects of experienced trauma. Post-traumatic growth does not mean that the experience of trauma is desirable or necessary to make significant changes in life. It is not equated with a sense of happiness, either. It is, however, an opportunity for a more meaningful and valuable life. [Note: "valuable,' I'm assuming, in the eyes of the person who experienced the trauma]

Another source framed the cognitive rebuilding succinctly, in Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth: A Comparison: "Post-traumatic growth is manifested in several clearly defined behaviors and thought patterns not necessarily present prior to exposure. [emphasis mine]"

For some of us - maybe most? - it is a 100% good outcome to regain the equilibrium or the life movement we had pre-trauma. There is nothing intrinsically superior about attaining some higher level of consciousness following trauma, in my not so humble opinion.

But for others of us - take me, for instance - when the original equilibrium may have stood on unstable land, then that "cognitive rebuilding" - the mental rewiring - the post-traumatic elevation - is definitely a goal to reach for.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

On the Road: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 22: Into New Mexico

COVID signage outside Walmart. Las Cruces, New Mexico. May 2020.

After leaving Tucson, I headed east on I-10.

In addition to the Welcome to New Mexico border sign, there was another, emblazoned on a giant LED board, which I remember as:

Face coverings must be worn in public settings.

(When, oh when, will I learn to stop and take photos of these documentary things?)

I already knew that New Mexico took COVID protections more seriously than Arizona. The signage impressed me right off, not only for its literal message to inform travelers, but for the sign's implied message: We walk our talk about our concern for your health.

My experience in Tucson was that stores took COVID seriously: plexiglass barriers between cashiers and customers, sanitized shopping carts, and eventually, cashiers routinely wearing masks. But the percentage of Tucsonans wearing masks while shopping was slow to rise as COVID unfolded, and at best, I estimate only a 70% mask-wearing rate at its peak.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, mask wearing is de rigeur. When I entered the above Walmart, everyone wore a mask except for one scofflaw dad and his under-the-age-of-informed-consent daughter.

I stayed in a Las Cruces motel for three nights. COVID constraints closed the indoor pool, prohibited visitors to motel guests, and required masks in the lobby. This felt reassuring. 

I met with friends in Las Cruces.

In one case, a friend and I met outside only, in a covered breezeway, with 15 or so feet between us. In another case, we met indoors and maskless, but with at least 10 feet between us.  In the third case, we met inside, maskless - most of the time with at least six feet between us, but for a brief time, we sat together at a dining table for lunch.

No hugs, no handshakes.

A level of confidence among all of us that we'd each practiced pretty-safe behaviors before meeting up.

If I were to apply a sexual-encounter analogy, I'd say the three personal meetings - in their aggregate - were similar to using a condom: pretty darn good protection against infection, but not without risk, and certainly not the 100% protection that abstinence brings.

Gosh, it was good to see some folks face to face!

And a rueful shout-out to my El Paso friend and treasured role model, who I couldn't meet while in the area.   :-(

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Tucson, AZ: Goodbye: A Soft Close

My Louisiana coffee mug in my Tucson apartment. April 2019.

Yesterday was my last day in Tucson.

I expected an unexpected, unpleasant surprise on my move-out day.

Although there was an annoying location glitch in dropping off my internet provider's router, it was relatively mild, so it didn't rise to the unpleasant surprise level. After I accomplished that mission, I thought, wow, it looks like this will be a smooth exit!

But then, when I traversed a side street on my way out of Tucson, I didn't see a speed hump quickly enough to ratchet down my speed to prevent a clunk as I went over the hump. And I thought, oh, HERE is my move-out surprise! Vehicle damage!

But, no, Chez P(rius) incurred no damage, and I was on my way.

The move-out gods granted mercy this year.    

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 21: Masks

Two of my COVID masks. Tucson, Arizona. May 2020.

Getting some

I bought a set of three masks. My decision-making process was a recipe of
  • Two parts --> best-scientific-thinking-at-this-time +
  • One part --> Emotional attraction to the sage green color, which overrode a third important best-scientific-thinking-at-this-time feature (multiple layers of fabric).

Before I bought the masks, I did use the folded-over-bandana-mask-with-two-hair ties model. That actually worked pretty well, except for five buts:
  1. My bandana mask had a tendency to slide down my nose, which exposed two COVID entry portals, also known as my nostrils. 
  2. Ergo, I had to touch the outside of my mask to nudge it back up over my nose, which meant I may have been touching a contaminated surface. 
  3. I couldn't wear my earrings with the bandana mask because the hair ties got caught up in them. 
  4. Sometimes a hair tie slipped off an ear.  
  5. The bulk of the folded-over fabric obscured my looking-down vision, making it treacherous to negotiate steps. (This is a real thing: Recently, I read of someone who broke her arm when she stumbled due to impaired vision caused by her bulked mask fabric.)
I coulda joined the legions of crafty souls who have made their own masks, selecting from any of the plethora of so-called easy templates, but I'm neither skilled nor interested in such things, which is why my mother pretty much made my 8th grade sewing project for me, which was a lovely mossy green jumper made of a faux suede. The color was my favorite and the texture so soft.

I regret that I won't have that COVID Era cultural memory of homemade mask making that so many people around the planet will, but, well, whatever.

Around the ears or around the neck and head? 

I opted for a design that has two slender elastic strings, one circling the top of my neck and the other circling my head above my ears. Because a good fit without gaps is important, I liked that I could adjust the fit of either elastic string.

A little titillating

It amuses me that my masks remind me of old-timey halter tops from the 70s. To wear a halter top on my face makes me giggle.

The fabric is from athleisure wear, so it feels comfortable to touch.