Friday, September 30, 2005

Progress, Friends, and Theories (that should be a song title or something)

Hurray to my friend Rob, who has just offered to put the thesis in "official" UNM Thesis Formatting Format.

Hurray hurray hurray!

My sister offered to help with editing and the Powerpoint (which by the end I'm sure I'll be too exhausted to do well by myself).

Hurray to friends! Hurray to family!

Hurray to progress!

Another momentum-gathering meeting with Committee Member this afternoon to block out the next section, the literature review. This will be the most theoretical chapter and one that I'm the most scared to write for a few reasons:
  1. I have to cover a LOT of ground. I'm talking about an issue that cuts across multiple disciplines and therefore multiple "discourses" -- oh boy! Identity politics, place, placemaking, culture, cultural capital, and community design. Whew! That's a lot to explore.
  2. I have a block about feeling like enough of an expert -- having enough authority -- to really write about what I haven't studied very deeply. Who am I to summarize whole schools of thought? How can I appropriate scholarship in the cause of my thesis that was originally developed for some other much-foreign-to-planning purpose?
  3. There's a significant tendency to fall into the trap of explaining too much detail/context for someone else's theory. It's a balance between explaining just enough of where they're coming from so that it can be understood and scrutinized for relevancy and possible critique for this application and getting mired down in explaining every little nuance and subtlety of their thinking. I'm not very good at seeing the forest from among these theoretical trees.
I'm hoping my partner in thought crimes will have a plan of attack to avoid the worst of these potential sidetrack tendencies. Ride the rail, baby. Ride the rail.

The Pressure of Calm Heat

Sometimes
the pressure and heat
of your casual touch
feel to me
as your daughter will feel them –
the assumed assurance of them,
the unconscious stability
of your love.

I pocket these moments
of science fiction future
and try not to bank
on the currency
of our present circumstances.

There are dishes to do,
words to write,
and fights to work toward
at our daily jobs,

and I know your attraction to me
is unthinking,
past a growing awareness
that we enjoy each other’s intelligence
even as we share little information.

Still,
the calm of your heat in the mornings
beckons like a desert mirage
not open to business for me –
thirsty wayside traveler
who reads in the clouds
the length of my personal drought.

When the wind
has erased the last of my footsteps
in the sand,
I will follow the sidewinders' path
to someone else’s heat.

This coin of your calm in my pocket
will tarnish with my thumb’s print.
Maybe it will buy me time
to believe the next one can love me
in a wide open glow
that stays.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Part II of the Introduction: Identity

Besides identity, the other groups seem self-explanatory and tended to be what they appeared. Traffic, as the catalyst behind the entire visioning strategy, was to deal with increased congestion on 4th Street for these residents, whose only ingress and egress to their homes was 4th Street. Trails are actually formed from the system of acequia, or irrigation, ditches, one of the special physical features of area, as well as an important cultural reminder of this area’s history of agricultural fields. Not only do these trails serve at some of the only remaining recreational open space in this area, they serve as the connective tissue in neighborhoods that are not always connected by roads. These acequia trails are what connects neighborhoods that look nothing alike or relate directly to each other in space. Economic revitalization is a common desire for neighborhoods with some commercial activity. In this case, these residents believed if they could improve 4th Street as a commercial corridor, then not only are their property values raised, their quality of life also improves.

Identity, though, is an interesting one. Here is a group that is NOT a place – because of the way the neighborhoods were originally constructed and because of Montaño that now separates them – coming together to create an identity for themselves.

Within the Identity group, several priority strategies were identified, in the order that they were proposed:

1. Choose a name to reinforce a district identity

2. Identify or Build Community Meeting Space

3. Make Streetscape Improvements to Enhance 4th Street character

4. Construct Gateways to Ditch pathways and District

The underlying concerns that they had in moving forward with these strategies involved four values:

· Rural: Maintain the quality of rural life and greenery

· Commercial: Support the business community & engender local use of services

· Historic: Preserve and celebrate historic roots of community

· Community: Maintain and support sense of community closeness

These concerns were all voiced as part and parcel in the interest of thinking about and achieving identity. As community goals, they may not seem that surprising, but what do they tell us about how these residents are defining identity? Everyone agreed that identity was a desirable goal even as they talked about it in different ways:

· As a district for marketing purposes like Nob Hill in the interest of economic revitalization that will support and enliven the commercial activity on 4th Street.

· As cultural capital that can be used to celebrate the history of the area and practicing cultures of its current residents (partly for legitimate and partly for exploitive purposes)

· As a name. One youth member of the identity group explained that he wants to be able to say, “I live here.” Friends ask where he lives, and he uses his neighborhood name (Los Alamos Addition). They as, “Where’s that?” and he’s forced to say, “It’s near 4th and Montaño.” “Oh!” they say, “ I know where that is.” Like other residents, this youth wants a place name to can answer that questions so that when he uses it, his friends know where he means, the way residents can say they live in Nob Hill, or even Ridgecrest, and most people know where they mean. The fact that residents in the 4th and Montaño area have to identify where they live with the very feature that makes their lives miserable, separates them from neighbors, and turns its back on them, is an irony that should not endure.

· As place. Residents also spent quite a bit of time talking about physical improvements, both streetscape improvements to 4th Street and signage/gateway elements to link trails, commercial areas, and neighborhoods. Having a community meeting place was also talked about as an important step toward building identity.

In one sense, the whole idea of a neighborhood that’s not a neighborhood coming together to say we want an identity seems backward. We tend to assume it normally works the other way. Identity arises over time, doesn’t it? Doesn’t the neighborhood arising over time give organizational capital to its community?

There is some evidence to the contrary. Even in the case of Chicago, perhaps the most famous example of a city made up of neighborhoods, “natural” neighborhood idenity that spontaneously arises may be a myth. The famous University of Chicago sociologists Park and Burgess put Chicago on the map as a case study for the sociological investigation of sub-units of the city, first in “identifying” neighborhoods but more importantly institutionalizing and immortalizing them with a yearly “Local Fact Book” that persists to this day. Recent scholarship has shown that these ‘natural neighborhoods’ were actually chosen by the sociologists over other permutations for their studiability. In some cases, they even chose among names given by residents for aesthetic reasons. In addition, and perhaps more insidiously, the institutionalization of these neighborhood names involved a concerted lobbying effort by the sociologists with local businesses, the city’s telephone directory, and at the largest scale, the United States Census Bureau. The sociologists needed a reliable source of data over time, so they got the Census Bureau to change its boundaries and/or add the neighborhoods as place names in order to comparable data across time.

In more recent examples, the business community in an area gets together to choose a name for a district in the interest of marketing for revitalization purposes. Names typically chosen literally capitalize on some cultural or historical element associated, sometimes quite loosely, with the area. This practice raises issues of appropriating culture that belongs to residents sometimes long gone or history long ago paved over. In these cases it must be asked, who of the original practitioners of this culture or participants in that history are left to resurrect it, and for what ends? Who benefits? Who’s left there to pay?

In the case of the 4th and Montaño Improvement Coalition, the names suggested during the second workshop referenced 4th Street’s history as part of the El Camino Real or sought to find a combination of Spanish words that would conjure the feeling of the area’s once-predominant Hispanic culture. It is important to look carefully at who was there having this conversation and suggesting these names and who wasn’t. Compared to the current demographics of the area, whose culture was being represented, and by which residents? A look at the list of attendees compared to current and past demographic information should begin to illuminate a certain picture of the appropriateness or potential co-optation taking place. If it is found that the participants in the workshop were mostly residents having moved to the area in the past ten to fifteen years, what are the boundaries of appropriateness for the history they have access to in choosing a name for their district? If they want broader participation in the process of choosing a name, how will they assure that long-time residents and residents from cultures, such as traditional Hispanic household, that do not have the same practices of formal neighborhood meetings, have equal or meaningful participation?

On another level, there is a broader issue about the participants’ implicit assumption that identity itself will lead to changes in place. Afterall, identity is one component of a neighborhood strategy to implement a community vision. Naming is a perfectly logically and reasonable instinct. After all, by definition, a name will marry a place with an identity. In order for this to work, there has to be a place to begin with that can be married to an identity. In this particular case, the 4th Street and Montaño Improvement Coalition decided, strategically but in the larger sense arbitrarily, the boundaries of this “place” based on the area left out of all other city plans. But a place left out of the planning process precisely because it could not be recognized as a place worthy of a city plan, does NOT provide enough of a basis for place to be able to marry it with an identity in the process of choosing a name. There is something fundamentally backward about the process these neighbors propose.

In this sense, reality is not associative in the mathematical sense.

By definition,

Name = Place + Identity

However,

Name + Identity does not necessarily = Place.

Interestingly,

Name + Place DOES = Identity.

Gregory Bateson famously wrote, “The name is not the thing, the map is not the territory.[1] Definitions of identity and goals for identity do not create identity in reality. In Bateson’s example, the degree to which a map is an accurate reflection of reality is the degree to which it is useful for operating effectively and making good decisions. Naming this area won’t make it a place. Even making physical improvements such as gateways to demarcate “entrances” to a place that’s not a place will not lead to identity, because you can’t name a place that’s not operating as a place in reality. Until their area operates as a place, both internally among residents and externally among ABQ residents, westsiders, and residents of Los Ranchos, no matter how good a vision these residents have, they will simply be trying to sell a map of a place that doesn’t exist.

So what are they supposed to do? Instead of being stuck in a chicken/egg problem (which came first, the name or the place) or cart/horse process (let’s call it a place and see if we can get there), this group of residents needs to take a moment to assess who has been part of the process so far and who has not, whose interests have been represented and whose have not, whose vision and definition of place has emerged, and whose is still invisible. This assemblage of neighborhoods united by being left out and left over from other political and planning processes must first spend some time organizing itself before it can move forward in creating a home for a new identity. Neighborhoods divided by race, class, and culture must find a crossroads to meet – divided as they are by a literal crossroads that currently defines them. Once this community-building has been established, then a conversation can begin about identity.

Instead of a typical design charrette that tends to leave large portions of the residents out of the process, area residents could embark on a process of community design that would serve several purposes 1) continuing to build connections and open dialogues between disparate neighborhoods and diverse communities, and 2) make decisions as a community about physical design and the creation of spaces that can support and enhance the cultural practices of each individual identity group as well as the identity of this deliberate community of neighbors, and 3) create physical improvements that distinguish this place and the areas around it so that it is identifiable from within and without.

This thesis will explore these issues of identity and their intersection with place in the 4th and Montaño case study. The next section explores the literature surrounding the necessary terms to move forward in this discussion – “identity,” “place,” “placemaking,” and “participatory design” – and attempts to define these terms in such a way as they may be useful in making recommendations of next steps for the 4th and Montaño Improvement Coalition in their search for identity.

The following section will look in detail at the maps from the first and second workshops to learn what we can about residents’ perceptions of place, what they value, and what physical places could be improved in order to begin shaping an identity for this area.

Section IV will include my own visual analysis of the area, as well as a discussion of how one could begin to break the area down into constituent parts and relationships among them that tells us something of the way the place works for residents and outside observers.

Section V concludes the thesis with a detailed examination of the areas of caution in the Improvement Coalitions’ current course, as well as recommendations for a community design process and potential starting places for physical improvements in the interest of placemaking in and around 4th and Montaño.



[1] Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind, Dutton, New York

Grief

"I am missing you far better than I ever loved you."

How true is THAT?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Answer -- Robinson Jeffers

Then what is the answer?- Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will
not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history... for contemplation or in fact...
Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Thesis: Case Study

DISCLAIMER:
This is an initial draft of a masters thesis in Community and Regional Planning.
If you're gonna read it, GIVE ME COMMENTS!

Better to get comments now than at my thesis defense. (Encoruragement/questions also welcomed -- craved -- generally begged for.) Thanks!

Over 30 years ago, a Montaño river crossing linking Albuquerque’s east side with the fast-growing residential development on the Rio Grande’s Westside was first proposed and studied. In 1995, after twenty years of opposition, controversy, and protracted legal battles involving all levels of government, the decision to build the bridge was finally made, a deal was cut with neighborhoods to the south for a 2-lane bridge, trees were felled, and construction began. Two years later, the bridge was opened, and the impact on the immediate North Valley residences was dramatic and worsened steadily over time. No one could have known that thirty years after the initial proposal, an unnamed neighborhood would come together in a strategy of community visioning to counter the unintended but all-too-foreseeable effects.

The story of this neighborhood visioning is part of several simultaneous histories. First, it is part of a history of tokenism and citizen participation in a planning process whose logger-head debates and unproductive lawsuits resulted in a group of people who have never known each other, and without much besides traffic fury in common, realizing that they had been collectively duped and deciding to seek a solution that normally arises out of an established community, which because of the divisiveness of the Montaño bridge – separating these residents physically, politically, and culturally from each other and the rest of the Valley – does not apply to them.

Secondly, it is part of a conflict between interests advocating Westside growth and those who favor focusing growth on the eastside to avoid the ecological impact of river crossings. The current Albuquerque mayor, Martin Chavez, is the most recent incarnation of Westside advocates, and not inconsequently, also happened to be serving as Mayor in 1995 when the Montaño Bridge decision was finally made and construction on a 2-lane bridge wide enough for 4 lanes of traffic began. As soon as he took office for the second time in 2001, Mayor Chavez promised/threatened (depending on which side of the river you live) to restripe the bridge to 4 lanes and open it to full traffic capacity. Whether true or not, countervailing perception is that Marty Chavez and his real-estate/development cronies stand with the most to gain from Westside development. It is also no coincidence that Mayor Chavez formerly represented the West Side in his stint as New Mexico State Senator.

Thirdly, it is part of a broader history of Albuquerque’s growth. From its first incarnations, Albuquerque has always been home to a debate about its center and where growth should be in relation. Constantly split between physical and cultural identities, from the first Old Town to the New Town of the Railroad Era in the late 1800s, then the Downtown/Uptown division between east mesa and downtown property owners when the “Big I” was laid out at the intersection of E-W Interstate 40 and N-S Insterstate 25 in the 1960s, Albuquerque seems destined for diametrical debates about growth.

The latest incarnation involves the same issues. Hemmed in by the Sandia and Manzano mountains to the east, Kirtland Airforce Base and Isleta Pueblo to the south, and Sandia and Santa Ana Pueblos to the north, Albuquerque’s growth pressures, having filled in the eastside mesa, now push development onto the mesa west of the Rio Grande. Property owners on the Westside and members of the Chamber of Commerce argue that growth on the west mesa – the only direction Albuquerque can really grow unfettered – demands more bridge access to connect them to economic activity on the eastside. As the debate over restriping the Montaño Bridge to four lanes heats up, it should not be surprising to learn that vacant land at the intersection of Interstate 25 and Montaño is on the verge of development with big-box shopping centers featuring Sam’s Club, Target, and Lowe’s Home Improvement. The debate no longer includes downtown, because it has been rendered economically defunct from losing past debates. Downtown is left with the entertainment and cultural crumbs of economic activity, while real estate speculators and developers rake in profits from vacant lot construction on Albuquerque’s west and north sides.


It is clear to most observers that City coffers, developer profits, and Westside residents stand to gain from this type and shape of growth. What is less clear are the answers to the follow-up questions: What is the cost of this growth, and who pays?

Thirty years ago, when the need for yet another bridge across the river was first debated, city leaders wanted the bridge on Candelaria Road, which at the time was a much busier street and served as one of the main roads in Albuquerque’s North Valley. The City got so far as to take down the cottonwoods lining the street and prepared Rio Grande Boulevard for an at-grade crossing. However, the very fact that Candelaria served strong neighborhoods meant that it had the most vociferous protection from vocal residents with established neighborhood associations and political representation. When it became clear that these neighbors could not be ignored or bought off, city leaders looked farther north for another possible bridge road. Montaño, long a sleepy road serving rural and sparsely-populated areas to the west of 4th Street, looked like a good candidate. While all North Valley residents opposed a river crossing, residents near Montaño were not organized in visible political groups. Montaño is the last major thoroughfare in the City’s North Valley. Past it to the North, the municipality of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque begins. City leaders exploited this chink in jurisdictional armor and shoved the bridge decision through -- after a twenty-year fight.

Neighborhoods near Candelaria were spared the worst of the traffic impacts because they were able to successfully oppose the proposal to put a bridge at the termination of Candelaria, precisely because, to convolute Gertrude Stein’s famous complaint about L.A., there was a there there. Because there was a there there, there was also a neighborhood visible and powerful enough to fight to preserve their there and successfully negotiate with the City. In exchange for their agreement to stop their opposition to any bridge crossing, these neighborhoods brokered an agreement for the City to begin planning processes for their areas – partly to counter future effects of changes to the Valley they knew would come from an additional river crossing and partly to further strengthen and protect their already strong neighborhoods.

Residents near Montaño were not so lucky. Montaño was chosen for the bridge because there wasn’t a there there, and because the bridge went in, there still isn’t. North Valley neighborhoods near Montaño have been fragmented since they were developed after World War II. Prior to this development, the area was large farms and ranches, protected by their distance from downtown and the limited number of roads connecting them to other places. As the city grew north, large tracts of formerly agricultural lands were converted into subdivisions built at different times, in different styles, layouts, and densities. Many of these neighborhoods were still being built when the Montaño Bridge was first proposed, which is one reason why they were not yet politically established enough to oppose it.

Even as late as 1995, Montaño dead-ended in Simms fields next to the Rio Grande bosque preserve. There was a small church, a small residential neighborhood called Adobe lane, and although there were residents, a sense of history, and a rural sense of place, there was no name for the area, and no established political identity. Even if city leaders had wanted token participation or buy-in from residents in this area, no one knew they were there, or was pressured to care. Had they had a name, or a neighborhood association, someone might have asked them what they thought. The neighbors to the south near Candelaria spoke up. Los Ranchos fought the bridge from the north. This sparsely populated, nebulous area of new subdivisions and still-productive farms near Montaño and 4th Street did not have a political or community voice with which to speak.

In addition to Montaño, the only other major thoroughfare serving these neighborhoods is 4th Street, a centuries old north-south road once part of the Pan American highway, for three centuries part of the El Camino Real, and most recently part of the pre-1937 alignment of Route 66 linking Chicago with Los Angeles. Despite this historic significance, the corridor has been neglected and in decline for decades, taking its first hit when Central took over as Route 66 and again when the Big I shifted the city’s center to Uptown. Since the opening of the Montaño Bridge in 1997, increased traffic resulting from Westside growth and development at the intersection of Montaño and I-25 have decreased safety and a sense of place for residents, pedestrians, and motorists. Local small businesses, traditionally the heart of 4th Street, have gradually closed or moved away, leading to a deterioration of property values and quality of life for surrounding neighborhoods.

The most recent threat from the Mayor to restripe the Montaño Bridge to 4 lanes has served as the impetus motivating a group of residents from neighborhoods surrounding the 4th and Montaño intersection to work toward getting in front of further detrimental effects on their part of the North Valley. Despite their fragmentation, these neighborhoods are united by the fact that they were all left out of the political debate about the Montaño Bridge ten years ago. Unlike their neighbors to the south, they were the only ones not covered by a City plan – then or since. They are united by being orphans, as well as united in being cut off from Montaño Boulevard and sharing the disproportionate traffic impacts on 4th Street, now the only access into and out of their neighborhoods. Not only are they the ones most affected by traffic pains, they are the only ones who have never received the benefits or attention from a City plan.

In 2001, a group of neighbors from the Los Alamos addition, a neighborhood directly north of Montaño and east of 4th Street, first met to strategize about how to counter the effects of the Mayor’s threat to restripe the bridge to 4 lanes. Knowing they did not have the immediate opposition they would need to stop the restriping all together, they decided to buy some time while getting themselves and the larger area organized. Their strategy was simple and brilliant: stall the city by getting it to agree to putting a plan in place – opening an opportunity to organize the neighborhoods with the City footing the bill – before the bridge could be widened. Arguing that their area took the majority of the impact from increased traffic at 4th and Montaño, and that theirs was the only North Valley neighborhood NOT to get a plan out of the original bridge deal, not to mention the fact that the deal itself was made for a 2-lane not a 4 lane bridge, this group, calling itself the 4th and Montaño Area Improvement Coalition, met with the Mayor and garnered an agreement for a three-prong planning process: 1) a series of community visioning workshops, 2) a design charrette based on the vision, and 3) a sector plan that would include zoning and design guidelines.

Not only did they argue on multiple fronts for multiple outcomes, their motives behind this particular strategy were also multifold. Partly, these residents wanted to provide a process that would include all neighborhoods in the area as an organizing strategy. If they could agree on a vision, then they could argue with more clarity for what they want and bargain from a stronger position with one voice (“As a community, we can get this done.” – heard at Executive Committee Meeting). Partly, these residents want to test their own vision for the area against their neighbors’ to see whether they are in alignment and how much opposition to their ideas there might be. Simultaneously, this process is also part of a planning strategy, that the process itself should result in a city plan and implementation steps that will serve efforts to improve the area and move toward revitalization based on the community’s vision.

Above all, this strategy reframed the debate about the Montano Bridge from simply a Westside versus Eastside dispute (in which North Valley residents have been called elitists or NIMBYs) to a comprehensive conversation about what's good for the entire area, shifting the emphasis from Montano as a bridge road to include 4th Street, adding the entire north-south corridor, as well as its historical importance over time.

In the summer of 2004, two community workshops were held, led from the side by a team of private facilitators. The first workshop, held July 31 from 9 am – 3 pm, was focused on surfacing ideas for a community vision. Small groups were separated according to geographic area, with one additional group for elderly residents, one for youth (in theory, at least – in practice, not enough youth showed up for an entire group, so they joined the group for their neighborhood areas), and one for businesses. A facilitator in each group led a conversation to produce a series of maps for the entire area with these four foci, one per map: 1) special places, 2) good and bad happenings, 3) utopian visions, and 4) priority actions. During the report back for each of the groups, the community vision began to take shape in four categories: 1) identity, 2) trails, 3) economic revitalization, and 4) traffic.

The follow-up workshop on August 21 from 9 am – 3 pm separated into small groups based on these categories in order to develop more detailed vision, identify action plans, and begin to organize sub-committees to take the necessary next steps.

Stay tuned for the discussion of IDENTITY. To be written tonight...

Friday, September 23, 2005

Thesis Fear

Surreal moment #1,680:
Guests at my 30th birthday celebration bash chanting, "THEsis, THEsis, THEsis. Get it DONE, Get it DONE, Get it DONE. FinISH, FinISH, FinISH."

Okay, okay, okay!

Went out to dinner with an old friend from college. She's known me through some tough academic times. We talked about this and that, and she finally asked, "How ARE you? You don't seem that good." Here I am, practically vibrating out of my seat with anxiety, say casually, "Yeah, I'm freaking out about my thesis. The closer it gets, the more my anxiety spikes, and it's finally so close that I can't ignore it anymore, so the anxiety's pretty high." She mentioned that this was an old pattern for me, and there must be some ... reason. Well, yeah! Hello. Perfectionism isn't ONLY an admirable trait. It's also a deep-rooted pyschological albatross that's successfully paralyzed me on several life-altering occasions. Daughter of freak-show parents. Happens.

That said, my fellow grad students looking to graduate this December have actually SET THE DATE for their defense, and they're urging me to do the same. More than anything else, this freaks me the fuck out. November 7, people. WEEKS away. Here's the thing: I have not written word one. Not one! I have over 700 notecards, over 100 references, and about a year and a half worth of thinking and pondering and complicating things in my own brain. Finish in a matter of months? Sure, no problem. Let me get right on that. Holy fuck.

I know once I start (this afternoon, by the way), it won't be nearly so bad. What I'm talking about isn't even so hard. And my professors WANT me to graduate, so they'll be pretty lenient and forgiving of any/all shortcomings.

*What???* Shortcomings? Her little virgo-perfectionist-last child heart screaches to a halt.

SHORTCOMINGS?

Yes, that's right. There will be many. And it will be fine. Done is better than good at this point. And perfect? Out of the question.

Here's the thesis in a nutshell, just in case you're wondering:

One neighborhood wants to choose a name for itself as a shortcut to creating a sense of place.
Here's what I have to say about that:
By definition: Name = Place & Identity
It's also true that: Place + Name = Identity
However, it is NOT necessarily true that: Name + Identity = Place

Moral of the Story: You can't skip the physical improvements that create place, which is a necessary step toward identity.

Not to mention that the name they want to pick is historically/culturally inappropriate, in that they will be appropriating someone else's culture for their own economic benefit. Problematic!

That's it. That's all I have to do. Talk about that. Lay it out. Show what some other academic freaks have to say. Give some recommendations.

And viola! A motherfucking masters.

Woo-hoo!

Oh dear god, please please please, let me breathe through the anxiety that stands in my way.

And to all my friends reading this, let me take this impersonal moment to say:
HELP ME!!!! Goading, checking in, bribing, grocery runs, chaining to immovable objects -- all are welcome.

And if none of that appeals, just do me a favor and STOP ASKING ME TO DO FUN AND/OR SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE THINGS. I don't say no, so just don't ask, okay? God. And, even bigger, don't even THINK about getting your feelings hurt when I don't call or return calls or even think about you for the next few months. The truth is, if I am, I shouldn't be so do your best to redirect me toward W-R-I-T-I-N-G. Thanks.

On my way to meet with committee member and get detailed outline and logic nailed down. Oh sweet baby jesus. I'm coming home.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

CommaSutra

by Christian Blake

I love your English
I love the way your words wind around your fingers
Around my fingers in a messy cat's cradle of rhyme and
Free verse trapping the wildly fluttering space
Between words
Green words
I see your tongue dance around the secret center
Of the bonfire I see your breath splash
Against the goodbye windowpane in a pink fog
Where you write your English with a finger
I hear your consonants consumed like pebbles thrown at the water
A kiss a slap a swallow into the deep-necked bottle
And disappear into heavy uselessness
I've felt your wet vowel thrown to the wall
I've seen you pause for thought in a small hole in the Earth
Like the storm between the light and the boom
And I've seen you in that flash naked
Gasping at a comma,
a snapshot of indecision and pure beauty
Between the right words stuck
Under the rainy gable comma,
On top of the zenith of thought comma,
Before you come out slash/ down the other side
O meet me in the rain in the valley of language
Come to me holding like a flower a comma,
Like the last fire a comma,
An inhale too slight to wake a candle
Like in a forest a falling leaf your comma,
The branch you hold on to breaks in that comma,
On a paper bed you lie out on the sheets
And I send on wings of quotation marks
"Write love to me"
End quotation marks
Remember your first word hit Return
To the alphabet of roses yoU lay on
WhY you shivered when you first wrote
The letter X with your mouth on mine
Condemned to a sentence of words
X again my lips Return
Me to your English entangle your syntax in mine
You were speaking comma,
WhY did you stop all at once question mark?
WhY did your eyebrows hook like a question mark?
I love your comma, that pause that _underscores
A hanging moment of nudity a lingering raindrop and says
That all words are abbreviations for the text in the belly
Drummed in an iambic heartbeat one two one two
YoU are talking comma, twisting the air on a semicolon;
YoU create the space between thoughts like a potter at her wheel
With muddy hands spinning the empty listening clay bowl of me
Sculpting my sides and my center remember now I
Interrupt and break your hyphen -
The sound out of place rapped against the air casting
The magic spelling of love with an X
I kiss each word running down the dictionary of your body comma,
Falling apart losing its definitions under my fingers comma,
Trembling like newspaper in the wind kissing down
From your neck down your index to your

Footnote Remember how we said life's not a paragraph
and death I think is no parenthesis

This is when your body became a V

Enter

You say exclamation point
Exclamation point
Begin with a lower case o
Apostrophe' comma,
Another lower case o in the middle of God
And the black of your eyes sparkle a white painful asterik*
Up on the ceiling each star an asterik* comma,
Breathing in apostrophes o' o'
We are conjugating
You are moving faster blurring to sheer verb comma,
A verb like move like feel like breathe like burn comma,
We say thrill on the page slash/ the silence
Shift
Whispering in lower case
I hold you in arms of parentheses (this is our place) end parentheses
Fully enjambed inside of you comma,
You are speaking your English I shift
My rhythm you make a vowel that covers us suddenly comma,
We are destroying language
I hit pound# again pound# exclamation point comma,
You say upper case O
Going down the alphabet punctuating the air
Pound # still holding control
Shift O again upper case O in the middle of GOD
Begging with that question mark
That says you surrender don't end the sentence comma,
Faster moving the line you make a comma,
Pull for more breath comma,
CONTROL
You bite my ear a syllable
You are an angel on wings of quotation marks when you say "Oh my God"
end quotation marks comma,
The ghost pivots inside of us comma, a semicolon;
You love my English
Be there comma,
I can see the end comma,
Capital X O now CAPS LOCK O MY GOD
Help comma,
An ellipsis hangs... like a fermata
Pound#
O
Asterik*
Screaming in italics
The violent instant caught in parentheses
(O GOD spell G - O - D
Comma,
The pleasure holds in an ellipsis...
Escape

Return
End parentheses)

Exclamation point
We fall back on speech
Our moan makes slow eSses like smoke
I love your English how you say
Your love so eloquently and life's not a paragraph
We die tonight but in no parenthesis
And I tell you that you write the world wide open
Beautifully we are finished
Period.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Return

America Ages

The body politic,
leprous and shedding,
truncates visions
at alarming rates,
stared down
by blind justice
while carnivores
in the belly of the beast
fall all over themselves
for the last
juicy
bite.

Some of us --
poorer, darker,
politically awake --
free radicals
(mostly mysterious
with functions largely unknown)
causing vague discomfort
and sometimes fear --
scatch with tiny nails
on the inner walls
of democratic flesh,
trying to cause a cancer
that just might save us all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Driving South

Excerpts from the drive to Las Cruces from A-B-Q:

(Don't think about the stupidity of writing while driving 75...or of drinking ginger beer out of a green bottle along the way...)

#1
I want long kisses
and longer conversations,
no coffeecup unturned,
measured afternoons,
Elliot spoons and
Mad Hatter ease.

#2
The freedom of this moment
is stomach-plummeting
moon over mountain
horizon to the east
sun setting to the west
me between
driving in one direction
toward destination unknown.

#3
The opening
of my hips
as my life
births
from core
gravitating
toward
groundedness
stretches
to understand.

#4
My growing pores are the pockets
where I plan to put all my heavy wisdom.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Letter to a Sex Addict

Dear Dad,

You can hide from us,
but what do you tell God?

Now you know Jesus,
and I hope he knows you.

I release you
into the hands of your God.

May they be folded
in prayer for you.


Your daughter
of thirty years.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Some kinda friggin birthday RECORD

It started Wednesday. Birthday wishes.

Then the roomate at the stroke of midnight as Sept. 7 became Sept. 8, and my twenties ebbed as my thirties flowed. [Inside joke: I hate that word pairing because it's SO overused for things that just should not be described thus.]

6:20 this morning: My little brother and my ever-surprising father, who asked in all seriousness how old I was turning today. 30, Dad. Turning 30.
7:20 am: Danny (when I called to wake him up to alert him to a new rental on Forrester St. Hey, these rentals go like hotcakes on the magical street!)
8:00 am: My oldest sister
8:05 am: Rob
8:10 am: Maggie
8:15 am: Moc
Blackout while I taught my class, then...
11:10 am: My brother-in-law, crooning Happy Birthday and pretending to be Johnny Depp (a nice birthday surprise, because my sister and I think Johnny's hella hot)
11:11 am: Catherine, tacked on to a work request
11:12 am: My Thinks-Johnny's-Hot Sister Voicemail
11:15 am: Banners at work (pretty lively, for this place!)
11:16 am: E-greeting from Owl-Pooh
1:50 pm: Singing and cherry pie at work (At least the pie was good! Flying Star, by request.)
3:00 pm: My mother, more singing, more "I remember the morning you were born" stories ("It all started in the basement...")
4:00 pm: Hot-for-Johnny Sister in person

I feel so ... well ... goddamned loved. Crazy. And the day's not over!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bribery

So one of my bestest friends once appeared in a dream having published her own book. On the cover, a smiling picture of herself, and the title: Born Efficient.

This is my friend who can get shit done. She's got her Ph.D., a great job, two kids, and the love of her life -- and she's not even 40! She works damn hard and manages to be a whole woman and pull the whole thing off with grace.

Recently, I've enlisted her help in staying on my back to get a little shit done in my own life.

She's resorted to bribery. She'll buy me tickets to a concert Sunday, but only if I show "significant" progress on one of my thesis tasks. I'm sweating it! Seriously. It's one thing to put this thing off because I'm working hard at other things. It's another to have to explain to someone else all the reasons why I haven't even started yet. Something's gotta give, and I'm thinking it should be me!

So fuck it. I'm doing my best to get some counting done by Sunday to get those tickets!

But mostly, because it's nice to know that the people around me care enough to whip my butt. And it's also an eye-opener to be reminded that me walking around with this thesis cloud over my head affects those close to me, too.

Sunshine for everyone! Here comes the pain...

One of my committee members is also ponying up. He's sacrificing half a day to sitting down with me and fleshing out the thesis, talking through the logic, and basically talking through the entire thing. Amazing. And so so so so so needed and appreciated.

I was trying to describe the feeling of desperation to finish lately. I said it was like the last few weeks of pregnancy when the discomfort outweighs the fear of the birth, and you're all of a sudden ready to get this thing out of you, no matter what it takes. Life begins AFTER.

Bring it on.

Of course, Ms. Born Efficient and Mother of Two reminded me that that's all well and good, but the pain -- the PAIN -- is not to be minimized. It's gonna hurt every step of the goddamn way.

Sigh.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Learning Moment

One of my quieter students asked a really good question today.

I gave a lecture about conditions in industrial cities from 1850-1920 -- the overcrowding, the disease, the crime, etc. -- and the social reformer/progressive response to it, from Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine to Jane Addams and settlement houses. We talked about how transportation, particularly the lack of it for poorer people, made conditions worse for working-class people and families. We looked at pictures of entire cities decimated by fire that looked hauntingly familiar to today's pictures of the Delta.

We got to talking about race and class and civil responsibility.

In the middle of it all, one student raised his hand and asked with a straight face, "Do you think people really feel better when the President visits?"

It's the prototypical social reformer response. Visit for a day and deplore the conditions. Then get back on your plane and ensconce yourself in your bubble of wealth. Talk talk talk.

The times, they aren't changing. Maybe next decade.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Feels big, doesn't it?

Something's building. I've heard other people talking about it, too, so it's not just me. Duke City Fix mentioned it after the National Poetry Slam was over, the same weekend of We Art the People festival and other ABQ occurences. And there's the fight about downtown all-ages venues. Maybe I'm just enlarging my circle and therefore hearing about more things, but ... I don't think that's true.

Things are circulating differently these days. I hear about something I'm interested from a whole other source than I might expect. That's confluence, which always bodes well for major energy shifts -- personally, politically, and socially.

It feels like things are getting done. I'm hoping to ride this wave to ... dare I say it? ... degree completion, but more than that, to a reassessment of where I should put my energy. There's a lot I can do, many directions to go. I just want to make sure that the effort is worthwhile -- that I'm spending time and talent in areas that will mean something. To me, yes, but hopefully, to community. That word! That word! You keep using that word! And maybe it doesn't mean what you think it means.

But it's everything, isn't it? That connection that transcends our best efforts -- that IS our best efforts in a very real sense.

I just feel building. I'm feeling around in the dark for my hammer.