The dedicated producers at KPCC In Person recently invited me to perform in their live storytelling series, Unheard L.A.—The Stories of Where you Live. In case you haven’t seen it, please check out the video above. Unheard L.A. puts community voices center stage, true stories of struggle and survival, hope and fear, and the unexpected. This show took place March 11, in my hometown of Downey, at The Downey Theatre, where I used to perform as a teen and once cried in the bathroom after I kicked a fellow dancer during a Charleston routine in Showboat. Telling my story went much better. I felt buoyed by the warm audience, and it was one of the proudest nights of my life to be part of this celebration of L.A.’s eclectic community. If you want to skip to my story about how a freeway changed my life, you can go to 50:51, but I suggest watching the whole terrific show.
This entire week, my husband and I have been awaiting word on our mortgage loan documents, hoping our lender draws them up soon so we can close on a new house. On Monday, nobody was answering our calls and we grew anxious. For the past three days we’ve heard promise after promise followed by delay after delay. For some reason, it all makes me think of Syria’s refugees, whose situation is of course a million times direr than ours. I can’t help but seek metaphors, because that’s what my mind does when I try to make sense of things that don’t make sense. So I imagine Syrians desperate for a new home, anxious they made a mistake by leaving the old one, and at the moment they most want help, unable to get it.
For those of you I don’t run into regularly, online or in person, I have news: after nearly 16 years in Colorado, and nearly 30 years away from California, I’m returning to my home state. It will still be a new home for me, because this time I won’t be living in Los Angeles but in the oceanside community of Ventura. I’ll tell you more about that when I’ve stopped packing and unpacking, selling my house and buying a new one…but that’s not what I wanted to talk about now. I just wanted you to understand why I’ve written the following farewell tribute to Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an organization I have treasured during my time in Denver, and one of the big reasons I almost decided not to leave:
You don’t have to travel far to discover other worlds within our world. I met former librarian Karen Levi-Lausa when she coordinated my book party at Denver’s Bookbar, and we got to talking about her program that brings books to prisoners, Words Beyond Bars. Karen invited me to read a couple of the books the prisoners are reading with her, and last week I joined her for a drive to Colorado’s Sterling Correctional Facility for their book discussion. This week, she posted my essay on that visit at her Words Beyond Bars blog: Literature in a Razor -Wired Country. Please take a quick look and help me spread the word about this invaluable program!
A friend of mine has me thinking about the fine lines between exceptional and exclusive, community and clique, special and elitist. She spoke to me recently about a couple of groups she’s familiar with. She saw one as warm and welcoming, the other as striving to be inclusive and supportive but sometimes coming across as exclusive and competitive. I wondered what caused the unintended sensation that some participants were not only more accomplished than others, but also more worthy of attention.
Throughout much of my life, belonging has not come easily to me. I’ve gone through phases of thinking it was because I was weird, or precocious, or an only child, because I came from a divorced family, or lived with my grandmother, or was working class in a middle class neighborhood, because I was mixed race in a white neighborhood, or mixed race in a Mexican neighborhood, or simply because I talked too much and too loudly.
If I’d taken the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I would have had to share it with some 500 people a day. I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique. A Community Inca Trek gave me the opportunity to venture out in a smaller group and stay in remote villages along the way.
I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique.
In between long hikes, clear blue skies, archaeological beauty, and sun-blushed views of the snow-capped Peruvian Andes, I camped with locals and gained an understanding of what it’s like to live there. I also had a chance to volunteer in the villages. Many tourists don’t realize their impacts on the local environment, so it’s good to be able to give something back.
On Monday, a Denver Post columnist wrote an article about this spring’s first-ever prom at Florence Crittenton High School for teen mothers, and the article elicited negative comments that so upset me that at first I was at a loss for words. I’ve been working on a project involving the school’s first-ever leadership class, and that class has turned the prom into a hands-on leadership project. Those who complain about the prom say it’s a reward for bad behavior. What they may not know is that this prom is also a practical training program in goal-setting, planning, and execution. It’s teaching this class the very accountability the naysayers complain they don’t have.