Friday, May 30, 2014

Confessions of a Neon Desert 2014 Attendee

I wanted to write this post earlier in the week, but I got caught up in other things. I think perhaps it was better because the feeling I was left with after the two day music extravaganza was a mixed bag. Now that it's simmered and I've had some time to reflect I think I may have the right balance. The right words.

I love music. Every part of live music. The anticipation before seeing a band you love. The drive over. The chatter in the car on the way to the venue. Walking over. The buzz in the crowd. Everyone is amped  to see --insert band name here--. Standing in lines for beer. Getting a little pushed and shoved as you try to get a viewpoint of the stage. The heat as people squish together a bit and sing off tune to their favorite song. I love that. I love the live experience of music. There are people who get this and people who don't. If you don't get this at all don't read on.

I had all of this on Saturday at Neon Desert. I was amped. I was happy as I walked to the gate and got my blue bracelet. My friend Sarah and I strolled and took pics at 104.3 photo booth. We walked some more and found a row of local artists nestled near the corner of Mills and Mesa. We walked back to the shopping area near San Jacinto Plaza and found them to be little sparse, but we were still optimistic. Ultimately, we were bummed the Plazita along with much of downtown was still under construction, but I was going to see Wiz and Red Man/Method Man. This is all I cared about.

Until Red Man/Method Man went on stage. Without many things to do in between sets people seemed to guzzle faster. Lines for beer seemed infinitely long with people propelling themselves to the front regardless of who had been waiting. RM/MM hadn't been up on stage for 10 mins when the first of two fights we witnessed during their set happened. A poor staff woman in her neon green t-shirt ran over and flashed her flashlight back and forth on the crowd while people shoved others standing on the small surrounding San Jacinto wall out of the way. We backed further away. People started to crawl on the bus stop. More flashlight. Another fight. More flashlight. Finally two cops popped out from somewhere to help security.

When Wiz came on stage, we had a great perch by the Jack Daniel's trailer.People shoved some. A guy spilled his beer down my back, but hey, I'm at a packed show. It's a given. Then a fight broke out next to us. A guy had his girlfriend pinned against him. She was crying. A young neon clad security guy was trying to separate them and escort him out. They shoved and pushed. People yelled. Two shirtless soldiers tried to help. The girl continued to cry. Finally, they were separated. Ten minutes later pushing and shoving ensued as two guys got angry that they bumped into one another. I kept thinking, really? I just want to see Wiz, people!

By Sunday, everyone seemed less tolerant, drunker, and ready to take out even more frustration on each other. Partiers partied too hard and vomited in trash cans while police asked if they'd taken anything. A guy punched a girl in the face during the first part of MGMT. I was knocked down (landed on my feet) from the small wall surrounding San Jacinto plaza because people wanted to shove through at any cost. I just wanted to see MGMT.

Neon green t-shirts were seen sparingly. Tiny flashlights were seen flashing everywhere as people used their cell phones to mimic security, so people stopped paying attention. Half-naked girls complained that guys made vulgar noises at them. I wanted to believe that it was organized mayhem, but really it just felt like mayhem. The level that was just a bit too much, for everyone it seemed because they shoved and pushed, yelled out "Dick!" and "Bitch" at one another like a greeting.

I came for the music, but left shortly after MGMT because their show seemed stiff, or perhaps the mayhem had just become too much for us. As we walked back to our car a couple walked in front of us holding hands. A guy walking toward the festival yelled out, "Ugh, gay!" "REALLY?!?!" popped out of my mouth before I realized it. Sarah had bowed out the day before and it was just my husband and me. We both looked at the couple in front of us, and I wanted to apologize.

We passed the back part of the Budweiser stage on the way to the car, sad. We came for the music, but left with an ick feeling. In the car I asked, "What happened?" and we couldn't come up with an answer. We tried to think of things. The space was odd. It seemed too full. There wasn't enough non-drinking activities we'd seen at previous festivals. There wasn't enough security. Enough stages. We went on as we chatted at our local bar, but still couldn't figure out what happened. All we knew was at moments it seemed more Lord of the Flies than music festival.

The closing question as we walked out into the warm night air, "Do you think we'll go next year?"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Javier and Ita


Javier Solis was born September 1, 1931 four months before my grandma. He dropped out of school after the fifth grade. My grandma dropped out of school after the eighth grade. They both held various jobs. Javier—I feel I can call him this because we are intimately acquainted, at least vocally—was a baker, a carpenter’s helper, and a car washer. He even trained to be a boxer but stopped after a few defeats and persuading. My Ita worked as an elevator operator, ticket taker, in a textile fabric factory, and a bartender among other things.

His first hit, “Lloraras” was a favorite of hers, but she also liked to change the words to the song and sang, “Choraras, Choraras mi partida…” when she wanted to be funny. I think she choraras as much as she lloraras in her life.

He sang and acted. She watched all of his movies and owned all of his records, then cassettes, and later CD’s.

He was considered the last of Los Tres Gallos Mexicanos along with Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, other voices I frequently heard. All three of them died at a young age. Javier was the last to die at the age of 34 from complications due to gallbladder surgery. A surgery my Ita had when she was 39.

My grandma saw the tragedy in his life. She sang it in each note of his songs and mingled it with her own until we couldn’t tell whose song it really was.




Monday, May 12, 2014

As the Semester Winds Down

I want to lie in bed for a few days and curl into the sheets until they become arms who embrace me as I sleep.  I want to sleep in until 9am, stretch in the sunlight streaming in through my bedroom window, and just stare with blurry vision at imagined dust motes.  I want to read voraciously,  the way I did when I was younger. I'd read through the night and force myself to shut the dog-eared pages when the sky night broke into indigo.  I want to curl into his arms, not because I'm tired, but because I can't help but breathe in the smell of his his hair even when it's ripe with the scent of last night's run.  I want to write until my book is finished, until the pages I've clung to for the last year finish their fight for freedom and I've nothing left but to begin again with something new.  I want to....

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Cult of Education

In my previous life, I worked for a giant retailer.  While working there I learned words like company culture, we stand for, we do this here, we wear smiles, goals, LY, TY, lead by example, etc. While working for this company many things happened:
  1. I became a "we" and not an "I" 
  2. I lost sight of what was truly important
  3. I didn't know what free times was
  4. I didn't see my family, ever
  5. I didn't, I didn't , I didn't
To this day, and I say over and over, the best decision I ever made was leaving the corporate world. I still remember the flash of when I suddenly snapped out of it and "put down the Kool-Aid" as we commonly used to say about those who suddenly left the company or realized there was more to life. I sat at our monthly rally, a small sea of carefully coiffed, shined, scented, powdered, pressed people surrounded me. There was a slump in the economy and customers weren't so willing to pull out their black American Express cards, so our regional stood on a stage in front of us giving us an epic pep talk. He was firing us up and like everyone else I nodded. All of our heads bobbed in unison as his words pulled the invisible strings at the tops of heads. I felt rejuvenated. I felt like I could take on anything. I could out sell, out perform, and drive my business like no one else, until they hit play on a sound clip. Suddenly the scratchy voice of JFK filled the second floor,     

    "And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the     Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

I looked up surprised. The famous words of JFK, the words he used to inspire the race to space, were being used to get me to make money. To sell. To push my employees to sell things they couldn't probably afford at the time. There seemed to be something so vulgar in it at that moment, and while everyone kept nodding and the energy levels in the room grew palpable, I stopped nodding. I broke away from the herd in that moment and looked around confused. What was I doing here? 


This past weekend I was in a training for a new class the school I work for will be offering. The environment in education is completely different than corporate America. The time I spent in the workforce helped me. I don't regret my time there, because I met people I grew to love and learned the lessons that come with working. I have an advantage over the lifetime academia types I'm now surrounded with for example, and while in this training I realized that. 

Two instructors were giving a lesson on how to implement exercises in the classroom, and they gave us a line to use with our students while reading, "A line I feel is strong is...". We all repeated it in an example exercise we did as a group. The line was repeated from all over the room. 

A line I feel is strong is...                                                             A line I feel is strong is...
                          A line I feel is strong is...                                                  A line I feel is strong is...
        A line I feel is strong is...                   A line I feel is strong is...
                                         A line I feel is strong is...                   A line I feel is strong is...

After the instructor said, "We want to get students used to using this phrase. We want to bring them into the culture...". After he said that I tuned out for a moment. I had a flash to my prior life. The word culture. Culture. The word rolled around in my mouth for a moment, along the edges of my tongue, and I chewed it slowly my molars pressing against each other. It no longer had the bitter aftertaste it once had. It tasted different, and I realized that no matter what we will assimilate to our environments. We will embrace the culture of where we work, but we get to choose that culture. And, if I have to choose which Kool-Aid I want to drink I pick education. I can teach, but also have time to write and read and write more. Yes, there is bureaucracy, but teaching students the culture of how to appreciate great works of art, to read, and write in a way that will benefit them not just now, but later in life, tastes a whole lot sweeter. I will fight, I will pull, and badger young minds to the finish line. Some will be left behind, but I can talk about stories and writing with passion, and passion makes all the difference. 

So I repeated, "A line I feel is strong is..."