Thursday, April 25, 2013
Picture this: a flatbed trailer bumping down a muddy dirt road in La Jara, New Mexico during a steady light rain. On the flatbed stands a clawfoot bathtub. Waving above the tub are the fronds of a potted palm. That was the closing scene of my sixtieth move. For the first time in my life, I said it would be my last. A year and a half later, we moved into an apartment at the corner of Pennsylvania
On September 7, 2011, I began my Year of Standing Still. Quite a few readers came along on the standing-still journey, an experiment to see if I could put down roots in Albuquerque and learn to love the city I’ve never cared for. I set about my experiment very deliberately, and I did pretty well at it. But maybe not well enough.
Last month, my friend Sarah, who happens to live in Oakland, California, and I started talking about the possibility of my living in the Bay Area once more. For thirteen years, with moves in between to and from Denmark, New Zealand, and south of Santa Cruz, I called the Bay Area home, and I loved it. I still love it. I suppose that, bottom-line, I left because of that Third Culture Kid restlessness. Maybe, too, I had some things to resolve back here in New Mexico. My excuse was that I would never be able
Owning a home has lost its appeal. I’m tired of home and yard maintenance. Most of my domestic projects fail to come to fruition because writing is my priority. Cheyenne is heading off to grad school. The time seems right to sell. I researched staying in Albuquerque, where I have definitely put down some roots, although they’re not yet terribly deep. I researched the Bay Area, where I will not have to own a vehicle. The clincher, when I listed pros and cons was that in Albuquerque, due to weather extremes and a rather uninteresting neighborhood, I have to force myself to go outdoors to walk—my main form of exercise. That is never the case in the Bay Area. Besides, some of my closest friends live there.
Because housing is expensive there, I will most likely end up in a studio. This will be a different version of my Tiny House Dream, and I’m excited about being creative about a small space. Besides, with the entire San Francisco Bay as my backyard, how much indoor living space do I need? Move
Friday, April 5, 2013
When I was eleven years old, our family drove to Sunrise, Arizona, west of Winslow to visit the trader’s family. That was where I first tasted pizza, which Jean kept calling “pizza pie”. It was homemade and delicious, full of tastes new to this American palate. That was supper, after a long and grueling drive over dirt roads under blazing sun. The next morning, George said he wanted to take us to an unusual place, the like of which we might never see again.
We drove over another dirt road to see rows of wooden barracks surrounded by barbed wire, overlooked by wooden guard towers, the whole of it falling into the hard pink earth speckled with glittering mica. George explained that this was a concentration camp that had held Japanese Americans
I finally learned about the Holocaust in college. I read many books about what happened in Europe. There were fewer books about this shameful time in US history. The first I read was the Young Adult memoir, Farewell to Manzanar. Later I read Snow Falling on Cedars, and when I wrote
When I heard about Julie Otsuka’s book, When the Emperor Was Divine, I knew I had to read it. At 144 pages, it is undersized for a novel, but the story is large. The first three chapters are written in third person from the point of view of a mother, an 11-year-old daughter, and an eight-year-old son, in that order. The fourth chapter is told in first person plural by the girl and boy. A very short fifth chapter, titled “Confession,” begins in the voice of the father but rapidly becomes the excruciating story of every Japanese American male incarcerated for disloyalty and pressed, if not tortured, to admit to deeds of spying and succoring the enemy, to the point of ridiculousness, were it not so painful.
Otsuka’s style is spare yet detailed, allowing her to fully tell a tale of such immensity in so little space. There is something both poignant and matter-of-fact about the mother’s preparations for transport, down to burying silver, executing the aging family dog, and releasing the beloved macaw, because pets cannot be taken along. The next story, the girl’s, picks up where the mother’s leaves off, on the train to the Topaz camp in Utah. The boy’s story takes place during the nearly four-year
No one in the family is named, making the story both more universal and more anonymous. They become simply another bunch of “Japs,” as the majority of Americans perceived them. In the camp, the family, except for the boy, who seems most able to retain his core self, disintegrates. The father, who continues to send weekly postcards from Lordsburg, New Mexico until near the end of the war, returns home months after the war has ended, broken, unable ever to work again. It is the boy’s story, perhaps because of the vitality he holds onto, that touched me most deeply. The whole novel is heartbreaking in its deceptive simplicity, but it is the brief mention of the kindness
of non-Japanese Americans that allowed
me my first tears—the Christmas gift sent to the boy by Quakers and the
American Friends Committee, a Swiss Army knife with the words, “May the Lord
look down upon you always.” Perhaps the tears come because I always ask myself,
What would I do in this situation? I always hope I would commit righteousness, kindness,
integrity, whatever the personal risk. And I don’t know.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Ever heard of a Little Free Library or the Little Free Library Movement? Here’s a picture of one in Brazil. And over the next few weeks, people can expect to see one under construction and placed in my front yard, right by the sidewalk. It’ll be yellow with white trim, like my house, and it will boast a white corrugated plastic roof. It’ll have a cinderblock base that also serves as a planter (you’ll see).
I first heard about Little Free Libraries when Cheyenne, now an assistant librarian in a local high school and soon to be working on her MS in library and information science at the University of Denver, sent me a YouTube video about them. That was on February 19th. I got so excited that on the 20th, I went to an indoor flea market and found the perfect little retro cabinet to serve as my library. A few days later, I bought the roofing material. The idea seems made-to-order for me—books, library, creating community, and having a building project that falls within my skill set.
I plan to register the library with the Little Free Library, so my tiny yellow book-house can bear a “Celebrating Healthier Neighborhoods” sign and be on the world map of Little Free Libraries. A few weeks before I heard about these special purveyors of knowledge and pleasure, my first and favorite librarian of all time (except for Vicki Rakowski), Octavia Fellin, passed away at the age of 93. There is nothing for it but to also post a plaque in honor of Miss Fellin. Tuesday I took a special trip to the Octavia Fellin Library in my hometown of Gallup to read the clippings on a memorial bulletin board. I’ll be sharing a little about this exceptional woman and her influence on a small New Mexico town.
Expect to see and hear more about my Little Free Library project. Who knows, there could be more Little Free Libraries in my future. And, if I can inspire you, perhaps in yours.
If you decide to create a Little Free Library, I would love to have you post your process here as a guest blogger. Think about it.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
|Albuquerque Museum Exhibit Poster|
Sunday afternoon, I joined friends at the Albuquerque Museum to experience a Japanese Art Deco exhibit. In case you don’t know, Art Deco was a visual design style that gained worldwide popularity between the World Wars. Technically it got its start in France, but Europe was, at the time, enamored of all things Japanese, and a case could be made for Art Deco originating in Japan. When you look back over the centuries at Japanese art, it is often highly stylized, as are Deco images; it is sometimes hard to tell whether a piece comes from the interwar period or from much earlier. Art Deco is often characterized by bold colors, geometric lines, and ornamentation. The style often glorifies mechanization and modernization. In Japan, the art was also associated with the modern, westernized woman, called the “modern girl” or “moga”. Modern girls smoked cigarettes and affected western styles and behavior.
|"Tipsy" 1930 print by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi|
The exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum was just the right size for a relaxed Sunday afternoon—large enough to feast upon, small enough to enjoy without getting tired. All but five pieces came from the extensive and varied collection of Robert and Mary Levenson of Clearwater, FL. There were lacquered vases, bronze sculptures, screens, cut glass bowls, kimonos, posters, songbook covers, smoking sets (design-coordinated ashtrays, lighters, and trays), matchbox covers and postcards. Aside from sensual pleasures, the exhibit offered an unusual sociological view into Japan during the turbulent yet cosmopolitan years between the wars. What I found most interesting was that all the images, except for a few men’s kimonos, were of women or stylized animals—none of men. Whether that was due to the Levensons’ taste or reflective of the art form, I’m not entirely sure, but a review of Japanese Deco images on line is dominated by the female form.
|The Miyamuras in front of the high school|
I don’t think it’s common to place Japan with New Mexico or Albuquerque, so I found the acquisition of this show intriguing, in part because I’ve recently contemplated writing about Japan in New Mexico. When our family first moved to Gallup, our next-door neighbors were an older Japanese couple, owners of Tiara Restaurant. At the time, I would guesstimate Gallup’s population at less than 10,000, so it’s interesting that it had a Japanese restaurant at all. In middle school I learned about one of my hometown’s heroes, Hiroshi (Hershey) Miyamura. Born in Gallup to immigrant parents, Miyamura was a member of the highly decorated, all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion, although the ending of WWII prevented him from seeing action. In 1953, President Eisenhower presented him with the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Korean War, after having been a POW. He returned to Gallup and worked as an auto mechanic in his own service station. Today a freeway overpass and a local high school are named for him. While I was researching Miyamura, I read that Gallup was able to prevent its Japanese citizens from being interned during WWII, and I felt a surge of pride. However, Miyamura’s wife was interned, and there was a camp outside Santa Fe. So is this information true? I also read that several New Mexico towns successfully advocated for their Japanese citizens. I intend to learn more about the history of the Japanese in New Mexico. This may also involve interviewing my elderly neighbor, Mrs. Morimoto, past owner of a Japanese grocery just down the block from me. Expect to see more about the conjunction of Japan and New Mexico in the near future.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
I spent last weekend in the town that likes to call itself “The City Different”. Somehow, needing to give yourself that appellation smacks of protesting too much. There’s no denying that Santa Fe is a place unto itself, but I think it goes a little overboard in its efforts to maintain that image. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I appreciate about my state’s capital city—the earth-hugging adobe homes dotting the juniper and piñon-covered hillsides, the artistry, the wonderful museums, the ambience of the place, so much that says “Southwest”.
On this particular weekend, I drove up to participate in a Tumbleweed Tiny House workshop. You may remember from previous posts, “The Urge to Build (11/17/11) and “The Urge to Build II” (12/26/11), that even since before I wanted to run away from home in my early teens, thinking I would make adobe bricks in shoeboxes and wall up a declivity in the arroyo below our house, I’ve wanted to build a dwelling place for myself. For the past several years I’ve been entranced by tiny houses. Even as I get more and more settled in my little yellow box in the Q, I keep dreaming. Maybe in the backyard, maybe a refurbished cab-over U-Haul. The Tumbleweed tiny houses are gorgeous. They’re inspiring, so when I saw they were holding a building workshop in The City Different, I decided to avail myself.
I have little to say about the workshop, which convinced me that I won’t build anything from scratch. It included too much sales talk from the ebullient salesperson along with a lot of good, solid information for folks who do want to build from scratch. I met some good people who have interests similar to mine, some of whom I may network with.
I have more to say about the motel where I stayed. At first I thought I’d drive up and back from the Q both days, but then a friend told me about the place where she and her partner had stayed. “Cheap” juxtaposed with “Santa Fe” constitutes an oxymoron; part of its mystique, of course, is that it’s expensive. However, the Lamplighter Inn on Cerrillos Road was only $50 a night (I learned later that discounts can bring the cost down to as little as $39). Becky used one key word in her description of the place—clean. It turned out to be one of the cleanest places I’ve stayed in, rivaled only in my memory by the Hotel Austria in Vienna. It had clearly been (probably in the 60s) something a little special, still boasting a swimming pool and hot tub in a plant-filled conservatory. It has some custom touches, like Zia suns routed into the bathroom and exterior doors and a stone façade to the office.
On my second evening, as dusk fell, I took a walk on the residential streets behind the motel. The houses were once cookie-cutter and about the size of mine. What would be a modestly middle class neighborhood in the Q is probably more upwardly mobile in The City Different, given housing prices there. I enjoyed seeing the distinctive southwestern touches residents had given their houses and was taken by a rustic gate in a latilla fence under the nearly full moon. If you’re thinking of visiting Santa Fe and don’t want to live in luxury, I highly recommend The Lamplighter and environs, a 10-minute drive from the plaza and museums.