Again, Please. Tell Me Your Story

As fall turns to winter, I’d like to reconsider a particular reaction.AR_Fall Harvest

We have all been in the room before. Someone else is there…it might be one person, or two, or a crowd. A friend or family member begins a story. We’ve heard it already…many times.

But we let them go on out of politeness. (Is this person okay? Is he well? Does he not remember telling this story last Thanksgiving?)

This got me thinking about the importance of telling the same story again and again. First, it comes from a place of acknowledgement — I grow older, responsibilities increase, the kids acquire new demands; demands on my time, my attention, my bank account, my emotional and spiritual reservoir.

I used to think that my “elders” (I use this term carefully and loosely) were trapped in forgetfulness. At the dinner table, during or after, somehow, someway, the conversation inexorably drew to the moment where someone would re-commence the time when…

Often the details change. But what are details other than the sharp edges on a sugar cube? They don’t matter…around the pond of reminiscence, they polish down into the smooth stone of one-liners, zingers, bad accents, cued laughter. Or is it cued sadness? Either one, yes? Everything in between.

One day, not too many years ago, I noticed myself telling the same story…one I’d told many times. There was also this other strange little thought. I knew I was telling a story everyone had already heard. I knew it. They knew it. I knew that they knew it. And so on.

But, what followed proved to be an insight, albeit small. I did not care that I’d told this story before. I plowed through my social reserve and kept the performance alive, armed with those punches and zingers, cued their laughter, and delivered what my polite audience allowed. I told this story because it was a pleasure to tell. It’s always a pleasure to tell.

Why?

Because it is important. To me, it was a bright cherry along the branch of experience that is worth repeating. I have to repeat it. Others have to hear it. Memory is bad and faulty, and so much of what we live is lost along that long gray branch. But the bright cherries become the lodestars of identity. This is who I am. This is one among many stories that define the “johnness” of John to others…and to me.

Which leads me back to my original thought. That reaction! When a friend or family member begins again that story we’ve heard throughout the years…we stop, listen, and appreciate. We know they’ve told this story before. But they know it too! It does not matter.

We listen, because it is the teller’s pleasure to tell! We grant this woman or man the dignity of his or her story, the dignity of his or her life and experience. We permit them the bright cherry of identity. We listen…because it is a pleasure to listen.

John Lewis
Artist/Editor

 

 

 

Joe Barrera: Los Dias de los Muertos/The Days of the Dead

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Artist: Jose Guadalupe Posada

The season of death and dying is here. Autumn brings the end of the year, the end of living things, the end of growth in the cold of winter. October 31, All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween, albeit much altered from its original intent, is a celebration of the end of the harvest but also a recognition of the presence of the dead on earth. Originally, Halloween was the time when ghosts of the dead, along with unholy spirits, were given free rein to roam the earth before they were again confined in Purgatory or in Hell. They had to be confined in anticipation of November 1, the Day of All Hallows, the Holy Ones, the saints in heaven. All Saints is followed by All Souls on November 2, during which we honor the Souls in Purgatory, suffering purification before entry to heaven in the Catholic belief that was once universal in Europe. The season is the last vestige in modern culture of the reality that life and death are two sides of the same coin, that where there is life there must also be death, that the same Creator who created life also created death. The season tells us that we should not ignore death, nor fear it, because it is part of our existence and we cannot avoid it. In our culture, which deludes us into believing that youth and physical beauty are eternal, we don’t pay much heed to this kind of thing anymore.

Our Halloween customs derive from northern Europe, but traditions known as The Days of the Dead, usually the last days of October and first days of November, have come in from lands to the south. These influences are often mistakenly considered to be “Mexican Halloween,” but Halloween and The Days of the Dead are very different celebrations. In Mexico, death is traditionally honored in a much more open fashion than it is here. Death is held in high esteem, in a reverential sense, not in the spooky, haunted sense of Halloween.

Awareness of the dead is typical of a culture that looks to the past, as in Mexico, not of a future-oriented culture as in the U.S. In Mexico, which is strongly mindful of the past, the amalgamation of Iberian Catholicism, full of ancient Greek and Roman roots, with the indigenous religions of the Aztecs, has given rise to a rich tradition known as los Dias de los Muertos, or The Days of the Dead. We enjoy the celebration here in spite of the cultural differences. A manifestation of this in U.S. culture is the creation of “altares,” altars in remembrance of deceased friends or relatives. These are  commonly found in art galleries, where they are seen as opportunities for artistic license. In Mexico, altars to the dead are found in many homes. They are sincere tributes to loved ones, not art installations. Portraits of the departed are displayed, and their favorite food, drink, cigarettes, personal items, etc. are laid out in anticipation of their earthly visitations. The intent is to honor the deceased out of love and affection but also from a profound sense of the very thin veil that separates this life from the other life. In some ways, The Days of the Dead resemble American Memorial Day. Families in Mexico go to cemeteries to visit and adorn the tombs and to share meals with the dead. This is something which we should respect.

The veil separating life and death is indeed flimsy. We must realize that we will all soon be dead. What happens then? The Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, is famous for his depictions of skeletons behaving as if they were still alive, enjoying all the pleasures of human life–food, drink, fancy clothes, parties, dancing, even sex. Posada’s skulls and bones in the midst of carnal pleasures symbolize the union of life and death. They also warn us of the illusory nature of pleasure. His art has been appropriated by the dominant U.S. culture and is now found everywhere. But his ideas have not. We see the dancing, drunken, fornicating skeletons as just funny art, missing the point of the illusion of human existence and the much more real intimacy of life and death.

The Days of the Dead celebration in U.S. culture is an example of cultural blending, something which always happens when distinct cultures rub against each other, as is the case in this part of the country. This can be good because cross-fertilization like this saves U.S. culture from stagnation. It goes the other way, too. Mexican culture is influenced by American culture. However, the popularity of The Days of the Dead is an appropriation by the American dominant culture of an element from the subordinate Mexican culture. As such, the meaning of the celebration has been altered. Things get changed when cultural elements are removed from their original context. They diverge from their original meanings. They may be  trivialized, stripped of serious meaning, made into “kitsch,” becoming pretentious, shallow and gaudy. This is what has happened to The Days of the Dead in the U.S. The sacred meaning of Los Dias de los Muertos has been lost.  This sacredness can be understood to be an escape from human rationalism, a journey into a space of intense, passionate, personal religion, a religion not about obeying God but more about one’s relationship with the physical world and simultaneously with the spiritual world. This is a religion of beauty, and definitely not one of fear of death and punishment for sins, but one of love in a space where loved ones await living human beings, who are the soon-to-be dead.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

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Literature Event: Fort Collins Book Festival

To the Almagre community; the Fort Collins Book Festival is going on October 21st, which is a Saturday. Events start Friday night, and Saturday has author meet and greets, speakers, and great opportunities to meet other book lovers. The theme is based around music. It’ll be fun. We’ll be there too. Mark it on the calendar. There’s an incredible lineup of musicians and writers, including Loudon Wainwright III.

Speaking of music; don’t forget that submissions for Issue 4, Language & Music, is October 15th. Get that poem in. Get that drawing in. Send us your best fiction and prose. Our doors are still open.

AR (La Revista Bookmark)

 

John & Carol Stansfield Present The Almagre Review’s Second Literary Event: April 20 @ Hooked On Books

Come join us for our second literary salon in anticipation of Earth Day. Thursday afternoon (5:30 pm to 7:30 pm), John and Carol Stansfield will read authors Edward Abbey and Enos Mills, downtown @ Hooked On Books. Admission is FREE!

Janice Gould Presents at Colorado College

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The Almagre Review’s first literary salon, April 6, at Colorado College. Janice Gould and the audience read and discuss feminist author, Kate Chopin, and her fiction piece, “The Story of an Hour.”

Almagre Upcoming Events; from the Publisher

Dear Friends,

Once again, we share with you news from The Almagre Review. We interviewed famed Taos writer John T. Nichols, the author of the Milagro Beanfield War trilogy, in January, 2017. The Almagre Review will soon publish our Environmental Issue, with an excerpt from the John Nichols interview featuring his environmental philosophy for which he is famous.

We are also planning a Symposium on Sustainability and the New Agriculture. We anticipate that Colorado businessman and organic rancher Mike Callicrate will participate. Also soon to come, we are scheduling The Almagre Review Literary Salons. Our first Salon will be with Janice Gould, former Poet Laureate of Colorado, who will lead a reading and discussion of Kate Chopin’s, “Story of an Hour.” This is a very short story (about 2 pages) which we will read on April 6 at the Salon (location and time TBA).

In May, I will lead a reading and discussion of Ernest Hemingway’s, “Soldier’s Home,” another very short story.

Regards,
Joe Barrera,
Publisher

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Announcing the Theme for Issue 4: Language & Music

Issue #3, Environment, is coming together. Today, we’re revealing the theme for issue #4, LANGUAGE & MUSIC, which will appear at the bottom half of 2017.

What are we looking for? Well, language is music, que no? Send us an original poem in french, with the english translation to accompany it. Send us a brief memoir in spanish to appear beside its english transcript. Or… a caption in farsi. Why? Because the script of a language might simply look musical to the uninitiated. Interested in fiction? Share a story about a Delta blues musician, a college music major, or a Senegalese rapper. A poem might double as a song lyric. The point is, language and music in this issue will be explored in relation to each other. To speak is to carve air. To pluck a guitar is to pattern it. Make us fall in love with the melody in your prose.

As always, surprise us with your original best. The privilege is ours! Questions, email John or Joe @ larevistaalmagre@outlook.com

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from the Divan, -Hafiz

Issue 2: “Leadership” has Arrived!

It’s official, announcing the arrival of Issue Two.

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The Almagre Review/La Revista Almagre is excited to share the publication of our second issue. We have wonderful local contributors, writers from up and down the front range, from the prairie, all the way to Wisconsin. To purchase a copy online, click HERE ($12 plus shipping). Copies are also available at the downtown locations of Hooked On Books and Poor Richards.

The Almagre Review will be at the Manitou Art Center on December 16th for their art opening. Copies of issues one and two will be available for purchase. Stay tuned for additional dates and events.

Warm Regards,

The Almagre Staff

Issue 2, December, Promises Special Contributors

When Joe and I started The Almagre Review/La Revista Almagre, we wanted to build a journal that promotes local and regional talent. Often, the most important voices are the ones yet to be discovered. Our goal is to be a stepping stone in helping these authors along their journey toward literary success.

It’s with pleasure we share that two very special contributors will appear in our next issue; Clay Jenkinson and Mike Callicrate. Mr. Jenkinson is the creator of The Thomas Jefferson Hour heard every week on NPR, and Mike Callicrate is the owner of Ranch Foods Direct. As pleased as we are that both of them join us in conversation, it’s the up-and-coming authors that form the spirit of our publication.

The Staff at The Almagre are dedicated to building issues where new talent can appear beside established voices. We do this as a way of saying, no matter where you are in your literary trajectory, our pages welcome people of all backgrounds. We might buy an issue because someone we love to read is in there, but one of the chief delights is discovering a new favorite author who enriches our future reading experience.

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