Wednesday, April 30, 2008

People Find Me

Four years of less-than-successful job searches have forced me to think hard about what I do and what it's worth. I keep cranking out the articles, but so far nobody wants to pay me to do it. And with the country and the world in the state it's in, I sometimes find myself looking back on what I've dedicated the last sixteen years of my life to and thinking, "so what?" And then I get communications like this (which I have redacted in the interest of anonymity):
I am the grandaughter of **** of the Carpa ****. I have been anxious to get my grandfather's story out for a long time, having heard tidbits here and there, but only recently have been able to get my father to open up about his family life in the Mexican circus. He is going to be 8* years old on [DATE] and I believe he realizes that a lot of cultural history will be lost with him if he doesn't get it out. Thankfully, he is relatively healthy and his brain is as sharp as a tack and he remembers things as if they happened yesterday. I read the 1984 article by Nicolas Kanellos then the web site on the Carpa Garcia which lead me to your dissertation paper which I have also read. My father knew every single person you mentioned and some you did not (for example the man who played the scooped out antifreeze cans (two of them tied together) as a violin was ****. Since your paper is so long I wondered where I could get two copies of it one for me and one for him. I want to have him read it at his leisure and get his feedback.. He still lives in ****, Texas and I live in ****. I understand that there is a new readex data system to access old newspapers (La Prensa) pertaining to mexican culture but I have not gone through them yet. My grandfather was a very big presence in the carpa **** and a formally trained musician at the University in Mexico City. He was fluent in both english and spanish when he came to Texas and wrote entire scores of music. He did fairly young exact date unknown my father was 9 to 12 years old. I think it is a little strange that he does not remember the dates but that he remembers vividly other details.. I know this is an area of interest to you and thought you might help me tell my story or give me some ideas. Thank you for your responses
That's right, I just got an e-mail from the granddaughter of a clown that everybody I interviewed in San Antonio revered. Over the years, I have gotten a steady trickle of communications like this, and even now they keep coming. Recently an oceanographer tracked me down through my dissertation advisor, looking for an article from La Prensa on a cartoonist he thought might be his uncle. I mentioned the article in the diss, and because of me he now has grainy microfilm copies of some more of his uncle's drawings. Those of you who are dissertating right now, remember that those UMI dissertations are now accessible through Google searchers. So it's not hard for people to track you down. And your work will touch somebody.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Congratulations to Chris and Katie!

Katie of TSEU and her beau Chris are getting married in San Antonio this weekend in the middle of all the Fiesta revelry. We wish we could be there. Today we're transplanting heirloom tomatoes in honor of the festivities.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good-Bye to the Seem-to-Be Players

I think stories shape who we are and how we see things. Scratch the surface of any of us, and you’ll find layers of narrative underneath. For many of us, the stories that shaped us come from television or other forms of mass communication. We have grown up in a world where Muppets, comic book heroes, and plastic dolls are at least as real and immediate as the deceased relatives we met only through talk. And for many of us, the fictional characters that populate our childhood are so standardized that we can share memories with people who grew up far away from us. I’m not really different from anybody else in this regard, unless you count the fact that my childhood was shaped not only by Bert and Ernie but also by Nyphrim the Sprite and Grub the Greezledurn. And now they’re gone.

Nyphrim who? Grub who? I don’t actually know how to spell the names, but these were all characters from “The Adventures of Nyphrim the Sprite,” a fantasy-adventure serial performed by a children’s theater group in Lawrence called the Seem-to-Be Players when I was a kid. Of course, the performances I saw are by definition gone, because that's how the theater works. But I’m writing about them because after 35 years, the group is finally disbanding. Nyphrim was Genie Averill in an outfit that reminded me of Disney’s Peter Pan, and Grub was reptilian somehow, played I think by Jeff Dearinger. If I remember right, the Greezledurns were Nyphrim’s antagonists, but Grub was her friend, if not always a trustworthy one. The stories that the Seem-to-Be players brought to the stage have mostly left me. Images, rather than stories, remain—the lanky Dearninger dressed as a spider with extra arms hanging from his by threads, a turbaned Caliph who constantly announced, “I’m the Caliph!” human actors working together to become “machines.” Above all, I remember the treacherous walk up the metal staircase to the Jazzhaus, a club that still brings musicians to play in its tiny space above the downtown storefronts. The Seem-to-Be’s performed there in the mid-1970s, and every time we went to see them, I was sure I was going to fall to my death through the gaps in that staircase.

By the time I hit high school, Genie Averill was teaching theater there, and she never did give me a decent part. When I think of all the money I could have made as an actor, I curse her name. As an adult, I found my anthropological research taking me back to territory the Seem-to-Be players had covered. When I talked to Mexican American vaudevillians it was hard not to think of Ric Averill, his friends, and their schtick, although the carperos did not do Donald Duck voices. And in conversations with veteranos of Chicana/o and Mexican popular theater groups from the 1960s and 1970s, I realized that this whole thing of a group of bohemian actor types converging around a writing, performing guru wasn’t alien to my own past. The Seem-to-Be’s weren’t referentially “political” in the way Mascarones, El Teatro Campesino, or Bread and Puppets were, but they were definitely a product of the northeast Kansas White counterculture. And once I got up that shaky staircase, I had a chance to absorb what was vital, noble, and creative in that counterculture. I’d like to think it’s still with me. The Seem-to-Be Players themselves are gone now but many people who earned the group awards over the years are still making Lawrence the kind of place where it’s possible to grow up with stories that aren’t exactly what’s being told anywhere else. And for that we can be thankful. By the way, the Lawrence Journal World has some great pics of the group that are worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sixteen Going on Seventeen

I'm happy to report that I've started chemo 16, and I am almost halfway done with this clinical trial. No news is good news from my doctor, so knock wood.

I'm having a weird day today. It's tax day, and I'm having the really weird experience of knowing exactly where I was this afternoon ten years ago.

I was in Pennsylvania. I was coming to the realization that my graduate program was not going to work out the way it had been sold to me. Also, I'd been dumped a couple of months before. I was feeling very tender and bruised, and also lonely. My graduate peers were all developing these fantastic relationships with the faculty with whom they were going to produce ground-breaking dissertations. I, meanwhile, was adrift in a boggy pond of required courses, none of which were going anywhere for me. My friends were all married or in relationships, and not really in the mood to entertain my teary singletonhood. Between my emotional sogginess and my too-big apartment with the abused german shepherd puppy living in the apartment above, I don't think that a day passed when I didn't think of packing up the car and taking off.

That day I came back from another wretched graduate seminar to feed Kuku and irritate him with my weeping. In my mailbox was a notice that I had received a letter from far off exotic land-- a missive from my dumper. The letter was at the post office, but it was short $1.73 of postage. In my feeble emotional state, I made a beeline for the post office. Communication! And I completely forgot that it was April 15. When I got to the post office, the line was around the block. But desperate as I was for news and a friendly gesture, I stood in line for two hours to pay that postage and collect my precious letter.

It's funny looking back, how pitiable that pitiful little person was me. Ten years ago exactly, I was standing alone in line in the rain at a post office in Pennsylvania. Right now it's a gorgeous spring day in Colorado. The sun is shining, and the trees are all budding. Tomorrow or the next day I will prune back our rosebushes, in preparation for them to bloom. My life has changed so much-- the only constant is Kuku, who remains irritable with me. I love my house, I love my husband, I love my kitties. I have a job, and a pretty good dissertation waiting for my further attention. I am currently sick, but when I look back at that girl at the post office, you couldn't pay me to trade places with her.

Oh, and the letter was a "Dear Jane" letter. Just in case the first one hadn't taken.

I'd just like to give my love and gratitude to every person who made each of these past ten years an improvement on the last. I plan to stick around for awhile, and make the next ten years better yet.