I’m honored to be a presenter at the 2013 Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My presentation, “Eat Your Veggies and Do Social Media: Necessities for Authors in the Digital Age” will provide basic tips on engaging in Facebook and Twitter, as well as blogging, which are now essential tools for book marketing. To learn more about the conference, whose other presenters include top authors Craig Johnson and Margaret Cole, visit Wordharvest’s website.
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Among those of us who live outside Britain, there’s some confusion over “afternoon tea” and “high tea.” By whatever name you call it, the service at several Duke City tea houses is lovely. The ambiance at each is exceedingly girly (in a good way) with lace doilies, floral-patterned upholstery, and hats befitting the Royal Ascot ready for borrowing. Tea at each destination is a quiet, relaxing experience best shared with friends and family.
1. For an afternoon tea straight out of a Jane Austen novel, head to the St. James Tearoom. The space and menu are equally refined, offering nibbles in savory, bread, and sweet courses. Past menu items have included fennel orange salads, cucumber with grapefruit and mint butter tea sandwiches, butterscotch buns, and custard tarts.
2. Situated on the Westside, Devonshire Adobe Inn offers lovely views of the city. A working B&B, the inn also serves afternoon tea. The plates here also include savory, bread (read: scones), and sweet items; I find the single plates more filling than the petite servings at St. James. However, eating your fill isn’t necessarily what afternoon tea is all about.
(If you’re a vegetarian, be sure to let these two tearooms know in advance so they can ready a fitting menu.)
3. Mes Amis Teahouse in Nob Hill is your best bet if you want to drop in for a cuppa. The teahouse does offer a full afternoon tea with multiple courses, but they also offer single cups of tea and a la carte menu items such as pastries and scones. The traditional cream scone with lemon curd and clotted cream is especially delightful. (I know: “Lemon curd” and “clotted cream” sound rather unappetizing. I have taken to calling these condiments “lemony deliciousness” and “whipped cream butter,” which are far more accurate.)
New Mexico Tea Co. is an excellent spot to purchase loose leaf teas and teaware. They had a go at serving afternoon tea, but aren’t currently.
Bottger Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Old Town will also serve afternoon tea for a group of eight to 16 people if booked in advance.
Where’s your favorite place in Albuquerque for tea?
I recently had the pleasure to view Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe. The exhibit compiles images of humans’ effect on and interactions with the Earth—from rooftop community gardens to blast holes on a Nevada weapons test site.
So many forms of contemporary art intimidate the audience—“What does that mouse hole cut in the wall mean?” [Here, I’m thinking of Juan Muñoz’s Waiting for Jerry (1991).] The audience doesn’t understand the piece; therefore, they don’t engage with it.
As an art form, photography can transcend this dynamic: Photography is approachable, in part thanks to its perception as a documentary art form. Of course, it’s hardly so simple. By choosing which image to capture, and by framing each image with light, composition, color, and texture, the artist is creating meaning. Although the curators have taken care inEarth Now to avoid a particular political or social view, it’s impossible to avoid the activist nature of the images in Earth Now.
These images don’t just touch you on an intellectual level (as much contemporary art does); they hit you in the gut. They callfor action—the type of action remains up to the individual.
Take, for example, Carlan Tapp’s series Question of Power, which documents the impact of strip mining and pollution on Navajo tradition, culture, and people in Burnham, New Mexico. How can you not experience a visceral reaction when you see Jim Mason, a Navajo medicine man, standing next to his hogan that has been split in two by vibrations from strip mining?
There’s incredible beauty in these images, too. Here, the aesthetic beauty of color and composition draw us in to engage us. There is incredible grace, for example, in the drape of a tattered tarp off an Amco fuel station sign in Brook Reynolds’ image series Light, Sweet, Crude. There is abstract handsomeness to the slick oil bubbles in Sonja Thompson’s engrossing piece Petroleum. And there is a twisted, otherworldly fascination to Beth Lilly’s series Monster, which captures trees in Atlanta that have been trimmed into grotesque forms to avoid interfering with power lines.
With these, as will all the works in Earth Now, I was engaged to answer this activist call. Perhaps the quote by photography historian Beaumont Newhall that begins the exhibit best captures my reaction: “There cannot be a man of any sensitivity today who is not shocked, bothered, and distressed by every issue of the newspaper….These are days when eloquent statements are needed.” And so, I shall aspire to this eloquence. I hope we all will.
The exhibit is on display through October 9, 2011.
We skimmed along the water like alligators, the tips of our paddleboards parting the water covertly as we threaded through a channel outside Key West, Florida. The city may have only been a few hundred feet away, but it might have well have been a few hundred miles. Here, a blanket woven of wandering mangrove branches cushioned the city sounds. We only broke the silence with the thump of a paddle off a tree root as we navigated through the sun-dappled waters.
Each of the red mangroves (named such for their rust-colored roots) we encountered had grown here through an astonishing process: Each mangrove grows seedpods among its leaves. Once the propagule develops, it drops off the tree. But the propagule doesn’t simply grow were it lands. Instead, it floats horizontally, following the saltwater current as though an ordinary stick. All the while it searches—searches for just the right conditions and place to put down roots. It could float this way for some time—weeks, months perhaps. When it finds the perfect water depth and salinity, the pores of the seedpod skin open along one end, allowing water to enter. Now heavier on that end, the propagule tips vertically in the shallow water, plants one end in the sand, and flourishes.
How clever! Hardly content with the place it is first cast, it finds the most advantageous location to grow. Mother Earth’s creations astound me with their ability to survive and propagate.
Here too is a life lesson: Don’t be content with where you are. Seek out the best conditions before you put down roots. But how do we know when the time and place are right? How can we fallible humans with our worries and our “Pro-Con” lists ever measure up to the simple eloquence of the mangrove propagule?
I was honored when my personal essay was selected for Voices of New Mexico. Out this month, the collection is the first book published by the New Mexico Book Co-Op. It features contributions from 34 New Mexico authors who explore what it means to live in New Mexico—from the state’s traditions to its quirks to its people.
My essay, “Sum and Substance,” describes my recent experiences with my aging grandfather and the town in which he lives, Tucumcari, New Mexico. In my writing, I don’t often expose my personal life; however, I found doing so here cathartic.
Here’s an excerpt from my essay, which is now available for purchase on Amazon.com:
By now, I should be able to see it. Speeding toward Tucumcari, I’ve spent the past three hours passing the menagerie of dereliction along this stretch of interstate: houses crumbling into obscurity, abandoned trucks whose rust is slowly camouflaging their presence in fields of russet soil, and peeling billboards advertising kitschy wares, like pistol-packing, taxidermied armadillos, found at roadside travel centers.
Now, just miles from town, I’m navigating gentle curves through a smattering of hills. With each turn, I expect Tucumcari Mountain’s flat-topped silhouette to emerge from the dusty haze rising from the plains. But today, the sight never clears….
I often wonder how running (a hobby and one of my passions) and writing (my profession and also a passion) contribute to each other. Often while running, I’ll work on turns of phrase I want to incorporate into my writing and brainstorm ideas I want other writers to bring to fruition. Recently, however, running taught me a new lesson for writing.
As a beginning long-distance runner (which after two marathons I still consider myself to be, truth be told), I often encountered challenges I initially thought insurmountable—a gnarly hill, a distance run that seemed impossibly long, or a bad running day when taking part in the sport seemed a cruel torture session. When I came upon these obstacles, I’d find myself slowing down and ready to quit. But somehow I’d always convince myself to keep pushing. I’d put my head up, shoulders back, and lengthen my stride. Just one more step. Just one more, I’d tell myself. And before I knew it, I’d be running faster, stronger. I’d be pushing through.
The lesson applies to writing and the workplace, too. So often recently I’ve encountered challenges in my own writing and my editing duties that I thought insurmountable. But somehow, I’d convince myself to put my head up and to take one more step (figuratively speaking). Whether I should think of this quality in myself as a high tolerance for pain or good old-fashioned determination, I’m not sure. Either way, it’s a lesson I can apply to all my passions.
Last weekend, a few intrepid friends and I snowshoed to a backcountry Asian-style yurt (a round, wooden hut). It was the perfect winter escape: We trekked through snowy hillsides beneath epic blue skies, and curled up at night in the cozy yurt (warmed by a wood-burning stove). Although I was feeling creatively drained when we departed, spending time in the outdoors, exercise, and laughing with wonderful friends—ok fine, there were a few glasses of wine involved, too—was incredibly refreshing and inspiring.
In the November 2010 edition of New Mexico Magazine, I interviewed Santa Feans Joe Ray Sandoval and Karen Koch about their experiences creating the film Spoken Word. Released to select theaters nationwide in 2010, the independent film was inspired by Sandoval’s journey of growing up in northern New Mexico, earning recognition as a spoken-word poet, and returning home. The film is New Mexican through and through. Sandoval pitched his poetry to Santa Fe-based production company Luminaria Films, headed by Bill Conway (who cowrote the film with Sandoval) and Koch. Koch brought her Hollywood experience on such films as Spike Jonze’s Adaptation to her role as coproducer. With director Victor Nuñez (Ulee’s Gold) at the helm, and a crew of 98 percent New Mexico residents, Spoken Word was filmed on location in Santa Fe, Chimayó, Española, and Truchas.
Here’s an extended version of my interview that didn’t make it into the magazine’s print edition.
What personal experiences did you bring to the script?
Sandoval: I based [the script] on my own personal work. It was based on my poetry, which is very personal. I learned a long time ago to express myself, and that’s my medium. When I started teaching young people, that’s what solidified for us as a species to be able to release. I wasn’t really close with my family growing up so there wasn’t a lot of dialogue with that. I kinda figured things out on my own. My notebook was my friend at that point. I went off to college, I was 17 years old. Then went on this journey and here I am 20 years later…. I think the appeal was that it was a very New Mexico story. It’s a tale of hope and possibility. I write in my work a lot that if you can dream it, it’s possible. It can happen. And it has happened.
Koch: There wasn’t really a story at first. There was his poetry and an idea. And in the next year and a half came the story. We did want to tell a New Mexico story. But also it had elements of being new and being old. I think that’s part of the interest of New Mexico: It innovates and it carries with it a long history. So when you combine a spoken word artist, which is such a modern concept with life in Chimayo, it was an intriguing combination.
What makes the film a New Mexico story?
Sandoval: It’s deep rooted in Hispanic culture. People here have said, “Thank you for telling our story.” It’s a lot about the lack of communication, or the unspoken words, between family members, especially the men in the family. It’s not exclusive to New Mexico, but it is a very New Mexican quality. The main characters are Latino. It’s important to tell stories about people who actually live here. People come here and it’s like an adult Disneyland for artists. There are people who live here and were born here, and it’s a really old part of the country.
Koch: We were told many times in Chimayo, the border crossed us we didn’t cross the border. That tradition precedes us all.
Sandoval: Both sides of my family had land that was land granted from Spain. It was important to me to tell a true story, and what was great about working with Luminaria was they wanted very much to keep it authentic.
Koch: It’s also a universal story. The issues that are ingrained in northern New Mexico are universal too, stories about land and about fathers. It’s the backbone of myth and storytelling, and it’s right in front of us in such an obvious way here.
Sandoval: It’s an age old story of the prodigal son and coming home.
As native Santa Feans, how has this place shaped you as artists?
Koch: I live in Jacona, and driving to Chimayo everyday from there when we were shooting, I had this profound feeling of blood running so deep along every road. As an artist it is so inspirational to life on that knife’s edge between beauty and sadness. There’s such a deep well of life here. Those of us who manage to live here are fed by it all the time. I’m a third generation New Mexican, and we say this I feel like I was able to make a love poem to the place that I’m from. It wasn’t about being from Santa Fe, it was about being from the land of New Mexico.
Sandoval: I was raised by this. I became an artist to transcend all this. And I wanted to stay. There’s always been a pull to Santa Fe.
Sandoval: It almost seems like a responsibility now to give back to my community. I don’t know if I qualify as a spokesman for my hometown [Santa Fe], but somebody’s got to tell that story. And I think that’s part of my role on this planet: to be a voice for those who don’t have it…. There’s a line from one of my poems, “We want to tell our history even as we’re making it.” And we’re making our history right now.
Tell me about the challenges you had while filming.
Sandoval: This project just seemed to come together, for whatever forces that put it that way.
Koch: The film gods!
Sandoval: They shined upon us. The chemistry on set, it just worked out in a very positive way. We got the best of the best for the budget, the timing.
Koch: And incredible support from the local crew.
Sandoval: When people are asked to step up for their hometown, they will. And they did.
What do you hope people take away from this film?
Sandoval: I always tell my students, you have to put pen to paper. That’s where it all starts. And if you work at it, you can make things happen…And I’m not trying to make every one into a poet, that’s just my medium. Whatever it is you use to express yourself and to focus your energy on some sort of art form instead of hustling, do it. It’s amazing to see how powerful art is and the effect it can have on any community, not just the underserved.
Koch: There’s a perception of whom Chimayosans are that I hope we broaden. Also, there are incredible stories still to be told that are locally based. I hope that we continue as a community to embrace those stories and help make them happen, and not just cater to Hollywood.
Spoken Word is slated for DVD release in October. For info on theatrical showings and DVD availability: www.spokenwordmovie.com