Educating Our Children — And the Rest of Us, Too by Cati Porter

My weekday morning routine is always the same: the only variable in recent years has been where I drop them off – first it was both to Victoria, then Victoria and Gage, now Gage and Poly. Invariably, the car door slams as they hop out and disappear into the crowd. Our goodbyes are always some combination of affection and admonishment. I feel fortunate to have never had occasion to seriously question their safety or the quality of the education they are receiving.

After drop off, for years I have driven the same route downtown, taking Victoria Avenue around the bend and over the bridge where more kids on their way to Poly walk, past the Victoria Club and the arroyo, where rows of mostly bungalows line each side of the road. Just a bit farther down is the intersection of Cridge and Victoria. For years I had driven that route, past the stone-columned multi-hued cottages of Wall Manor, without any knowledge of the history of that plot of land. I only recently came to learn what once stood there – Lowell Elementary – and what its absence represents.

Early in the morning of September 7, 1965, Lowell School was set ablaze. No one has ever been charged, and likely no one ever will be, but it is almost certain that it was arson. And whether or not anyone knew it at the time, that fire served as the catalyst for monumental change.

Set back from Wall Manor, facing Cridge but with a Victoria address, is the St. James Restoration Tabernacle. Originally that building served as a kindergarten classroom for Lowell; now it’s the only remnant of that school still standing.

At the time, the Riverside Unified School District was growing, but as a result of housing covenants restricting where people of color could live, some schools, including Lowell, had become de facto segregated, which is to say, not purposefully but rather as a result of the fact that they were located in neighborhoods where minorities predominated as a result of these covenants. Even where those schools had to some degree been integrated, the opening of new schools in majority white neighborhoods had siphoned non-minority students away.

By the time of the fire, Lowell was populated primarily by African-American and Mexican-American students. Parents of students at both Lowell and Irving schools, the de facto segregated schools located in Riverside’s Eastside community, had decided that they wanted integration.

This fire occurred at the height of the Civil Rights movement, shortly after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. There was some fear that there could be more fires, and that the situation could unravel, but what happened instead was rather astonishing: the community came together, and the students were not just moved but carefully and thoughtfully placed, a few in each classroom throughout the district, so as to ensure not just desegregation but a true integration of these displaced children. Riverside Unified became the first large school district to voluntarily integrate, thanks to its strong and outspoken community leaders, and in particular, Arthur Littleworth, who sat as the chair of school board during this entire period, ensuring that the integration was implemented as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

In November, Poly High School will be unveiling a timeline dedicated to Mr. Littleworth’s life, and at the same time, Inlandia will be releasing his book, No Easy Way, which includes his personal reflections on that period as well as includes interviews with other important local figures who were there too, and details the struggles and events that led up to this voluntary and comparably peaceful integration. I say comparably, because, unlike in other parts of the country, there was no National Guard called in to escort the students, but that is not to say it wasn’t without strife. One of the many things that I learned in bringing this book into the world is that there were parents who objected to the integration, those who were present as the bus pulled up to Alcott Elementary, protesting and harassing the children as they tried simply to make their way to class, in a new school.

These days, children of all races and ethnicities attend these same schools. I don’t know whether or not it is something to be proud of, but my own sons have no clue about the concept of racially segregated schools, except in the abstract. It has never been any different during their lifetime. But now, at Poly, I have had to explain to my son who the theater is named after, and why. Why it is significant. What it stands for. And the struggle for equality in all things is far from over. And that even in a community like Riverside, there is a history that we have to overcome – as far back as the influence of the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s as a result of a nationwide revival—to the neo-Nazi resurgence in recent years, leading to community protests, and finally, the death of a local party leader by the hands of his own child.

When I moved to Riverside in 1994, I had no idea of the history here – and regrettably, so many still do not. But often, when I drop my children off at school, I try to reflect on what brought us here, what it means to be a part of this community, how grateful I am to all those that came before me, paving the way for all of our children’s futures, and how far we still have to go.

Connections: Huxley, Stravinsky, Krishnamurti &Wood by Joan Koerper

“Human beings are multiple amphibians, living simultaneously in half a dozen radically dissimilar universes—the molecular and the ethical, the physiological and the symbolic, the world of incommunicably subjective experience and the public worlds of language and culture, of social organization and the sciences.” Aldous Huxley from the Foreword in You Are Not The Target, by Laura Archera Huxley

My paperback copy of Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World almost disintegrated in my hand when I was packing last October to move to Wrightwood. I’d had it since early high school. I carefully placed my hardback copy of Island, a softback of The Art of Seeing, along with my also falling-apart-at-the-seams copy of Laura Huxley’s 1976 edition of You Are Not The Target, into a carefully packed, plastic box of classics by George Orwell, Edward Bellamy, Ernest Callenbach, Hermann Hesse, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, a lost feminist utopian novel, and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, among others. I had no clue at the time that I would be living less than a mile from a house Huxley once owned.

When I learned Huxley was Wrightwood’s most famous one-time literary resident I engaged in online research and hoofed it to the Wrightwood Historical Museum to see what info could be gleaned in person. There is a display case dedicated to Huxley at the museum, and also a bit of filed material on him.

In my first round of research on Huxley after moving, I found a photo on www.WrightwoodCalif.com in a blog posted by Graham_Ranch on 12.7.2007. It was an image of Aldous and Maria Huxley, Mr. and Mrs. Igor Stravinsky, J. Krishnamurti and Radha Rajagopal (Sloss) at a picnic in Wrightwood in 1949. I looked up Radha and identified her as the daughter of Rosalind and D. Rajagopal who lived with Krishnamurti for a number of years, located the photo at other places online, then put the photo and the information in my mental “revisit later” file while I continued to unpack.

In early July, coinciding with the scheduled talk at the Wrightwood Museum about Huxley, I was asked to write up a short biography for the museum’s newsletter, a distasteful task at best. I was copying the sentence, “Joan (MJ) Koerper is passionate about exploring our souls as artists: the intersection of art, music, creativity, writing, and human emotion in the everyday sacred of our lives” when my mind flashed on the photo of the Huxleys, the Stravinskys, Krishnamurti and Radha. I returned to explore it.

I began meandering: about my relationship with these people and their works, their relationships with each other, and how they influenced each other…how their lives, ideas and arts intersected.

Huxley, as you know, and was previously noted in another of my blog entries, is considered one of the most important literary and philosophical voices of the 20th Century writing in English. Huxley’s classic, and other works of his, were required reading in both my high school and undergraduate classes at Michigan State University, as well as simply pertinent works to read and re-read over the years.

Growing up in the home of a musician, the works of the Russian-American composer, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), oft considered the most versatile and greatest composer of twentieth century, was well known to me. I met him once during my early years. Whether I liked his music or not, I gave one of his books to my father as a birthday present one year. I just let it go during my “great giveaway” prior to moving to Wrightwood. Somewhere in my memory I knew, but was recently reminded, that in the 1950’s there was even talk of Huxley, Stravinsky and Martha Graham turning the Tibetan Book of the Dead into a ballet with a Greek chorus.

  1. (Jiddu) Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was a world-renowned spiritual teacher and philosopher. In the winter of 1991, tricycle magazine reviewed the book Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti written by Radha Rajagopal Sloss. Radha was in the photo taken in 1949. The introduction to that piece noted that “… by the time he [Krishnamurti] died in Ojai, California, in 1986 at the age of 91, he had helped-perhaps more than anyone in this century-to introduce Eastern teachings on the nature of mind to the West.”

Krishnamurti’s works, and in particular the book Education & the Significance of Life, were required reading, and the centerpoint of much discussion, in my doctoral program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Krishnamurti believed it is necessary to face experience and disturbance as it comes to keep “intelligence highly awakened; and intelligence highly awakened is intuition, which is the only true guide in life” (1953:11). He further posed that if we are being educated to simply get ahead, obtain a better job or more power, “then our lives will be shallow and empty…Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult. Conformity leads to mediocrity. To be different from the group or to resist environment is not easy and is often risky….” (1953:9).

He spoke of two kinds of revolt: violent, which is reactionary against an existing order and without understanding. The second is the deep psychological revolt of intelligence.

Perhaps, most importantly, Krishnamurti spoke of integration: “We may be highly educated, but if we are without deep integration of thought and feeling, our lives are incomplete, contradictory and torn with many fears; and as long as education does not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance” (1953: 11).

When I was working on my doctoral thesis, a work of creative nonfiction exploring pottery and writing as expressions of our souls as artists, I had the opportunity to learn about the pottery of Beatrice Wood (1893-1998). I visited her studio in Ojai, CA, in 2001, where Wood continued to work until the age of 104. I was totally enamored with her studio, her determination, the ceramics she produced and collected, and most of all the immersion in nature with which she surrounded herself. Her pottery wheel sat in front of a large window looking out over the valley. How could anyone fail to call forth songs from their soul to be transformed into clay in such an environment?

While Wood originally lived across the street from Krishnamurti when she moved to Ojai, in 1974 she was invited to move her home to the grounds of the Happy Valley Foundation in the upper Ojai Valley. In her autobiography, I Shock Myself, Wood relates that Dr. Annie Besant, Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, Dr. Guido Ferrando and Rosalind Rajagopal founded the Happy Valley Foundation in 1927. The Happy Valley School, where Wood also taught ceramics for many years, was a project of the Foundation. She speaks of Huxley’s frequent visits to Ojai to have long talks with Krishnamurti about education, thus she was able to see the Huxley’s often. Huxley also served on the Board of the Happy Valley Foundation for fifteen years. Her home, studio, work, library and massive collection of folk and Eastern art were gifted to the Foundation upon her death. So there I was, back in 2001, in Beatrice Wood’s home, studio, and walking the grounds where she, Krishnamurti, Huxley, Anais Nin, Alan Watts, no doubt Stravinsky, and so many others gathered to socialize, exchange ideas, challenge, and nurture each other as friends do.

In 2001 I also had the outstanding good fortune to meet world-renowned woodworker, or furniture craftsman, as the Smithsonian refers to, Sam Maloof (1916-2009), when he hosted an event on his property to honor the potters of Mata Ortiz. A night under the full moon I will never forget. A story in itself, for another time. When Sam Maloof took us on a tour of his home, I recognized a number of Wood’s pieces about the premisses. He knew her, of course. We discussed Beatrice’s unique style and unconventional life among many other topics.

And so the linkages continued. I needed to take it further. It’s the detective in me. The researcher. The scholar. I wanted to observe the resulting affects of these relationships without having to get bogged down with all the details. I wanted to grasp the larger picture.

I re-visited some of Huxley’s stories and essays, picked up a new addition to my library, The Divine Within: Selected Writings on Enlightenment (Jacqueline Hazard Bridgeman, ed.), put my nose to the pages of Krishnamurti’s writing, re-read Beatrice Wood’s autobiography and played some of Stravinsky’s compositions I have in my music library. I was able to perceive, with much more clarity, how these great minds influenced each other, and subsequently influenced me. Each expressed similar ideas using different mediums.

I was spurred onto this recent voyage of the integration and expression of ideas, philosophies and talents by one photograph of a musician, author, and philosopher…people with whom I’ve been familiar with since my youth.

Truth be told, for me, all forms of life are creative, and all life is art. One of the many uncoverings I learned by studying linguistics, for instance, is that in Tewa, Navaho, and most, if not all, indigenous languages, there is no separate word for art. Tewa potter and poet Nora Naranjo-Morse relates that in Tewa there is, “the concept for an artful life, filled with inspiration and fueled by labor and thoughtful approach.” Educator Kenneth R. Beittel, in Zen and the Art of Pottery (1989) writes, “From earliest times, art and life have been one.” Conceptual artist Damien Hirst and naturalist and writer Terry Tempest Williams both write that every society and each person designates what is art. “Art’s about life and it really can’t be about anything else.”

These quotes are only a smidgen of those I’ve gathered confirming what every child, indeed every animal, knows instinctively.

Yet in the Western world, the social construct of dualism is the foundation of our philosophical and psychological worldview. It teaches us to separate all aspects of our lives…indeed to separate us from our lives, our minds, our souls, our artful life. It is indeed a challenge when one embraces the whole while living in a society based on dualism. Hence, speaking in Western terms, I look at how the intersection of these perceived disparate parts of our lives form a much larger worldview. I like to explore how they unite us…how they come together to make us whole. Because when the focus is really on the art that is our lives, however it is expressed in the everyday sacred, it inspires us to be more fully creative beings.

My research offered me a glimpse into how the creative lives of Huxley, Krishnamurti, Stravinsky, Wood, and others, including Alan Watts, intersected: how they came together to nurture, inspire, enjoy and support each other. They carried forth the art of their lives into different mediums and, in turn, produced opulent, radical, lasting, artistic, literary, and philosophical gifts for the world. They were revolutionaries, in the intellectual sense of which Krishnamurti spoke. They impacted each other, and generations to come, including me, as they engaged each other and practiced the arts of their lives. For me, this dialog and communion of minds became yet another example of how important it is for us to have our own commitment to depth, breadth, vision, imagination, integrity, and integration, as well as a wide range of interests, friends, and colleagues who express their art in different mediums. And how critical it is to relate with people who care enough to honestly share, listen, dialog, mentor, honor, and nurture each other. Finally, this voyage into connections became an opportunity to express my deep gratitude for all who have cared enough to share their art of being, expressing, transforming and living with me.

As a Living Language, English is Malleable and Still Changing by Matthew Nadelson

When I think back about what I really learned in college, aside from the insights I received during a handful of fascinating lectures and conversations with excellent professors, the ideas I still remember today are the conclusions I came to myself regarding the material presented, much of which were based on material presented in other courses.

Looking back, I realize that it was the culmination of these courses that allowed me to observe alternative, and often opposing, viewpoints and arrive at my own conclusions.

Of course, I wasn’t just drawing on my experience from other college courses when I came to these conclusions, but my life experiences as well. And, the clearest material was the material I could most relate to personally. Now that I have taught for eight years, I understand that a similar personal connection to the material can be beneficial to the teacher as well.

Because of this, I think the best advice I could give any teacher (of high school and above), in addition to more obvious things such as letting students’ questions and comments direct the discussion, is that we not only must show the students how the material relates to their lives, but we also must present the material in a way that relates to our own lives.

When teachers don’t do this, students lose interest. And really, why should they care about something that they can’t imagine providing any practical benefit to their lives? Grades are rudimentary motivators at best.

Another problem I see is that too often too many teachers fail to place their subject matter in the proper context. They present it almost in a vacuum.

Here is an example: About five years ago, when we were both 30, an extremely smart woman I had grown up with, asked me whether it was OK to start a sentence with “and.”

She didn’t know whether it was ever OK to start a sentence with one of the most common words in our language. I don’t know where my friend went to school, but I’m pretty sure she has lived in Orange County all her life, and somewhere along the line, a college professor had told her it was never OK to start a sentence with “and.”

Of course, what this person had neglected to tell her was that in a college-level essay, it is generally not a great idea to start a sentence with “and” because it is informal (and it could be argued that the job of a coordinating conjunction such as “and” is to coordinate between independent clauses or … blah blah blah).

But this teacher had failed to explain to my friend the importance of audience, purpose and occasion in college writing, and how all these things determine the level of formality in the writing, and also the fact that English is a living language and English punctuation is only a few hundred years old and has changed radically in that short time.

For my money, the great American poet Walt Whitman said it best:

“Language, be it remember’d, is not an abstract construction of the learn’d, or of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground. Its final decisions are made by the masses, people nearest the concrete, having most to do with actual land and sea.”

My friend’s anxiety over the use of “and” is not even the best example of this. One time an English tutor told me that he had been told by his teachers that the word “good” was never correct to use… ever – that “it should always be ‘well.’” He had no idea that “good” is the adjective and “well” is the adverb, meaning they are both good but should be used well.

Hopefully, this student wasn’t actually told this, but this is what he remembered … perhaps because he (or the instructor) couldn’t understand the practical application of such knowledge and therefore (perhaps even subconsciously) had no interest in really understanding the material.


Matthew Nadelson of Corona teaches English at Norco College and leads an Inlandia creative writing workshop every other Tuesday night at the Corona Library. Contact him at mattnadelson@gmail.com.

Inlandia’s Fall Creative Writing Workshops Set to Begin by Cati Porter

The Inlandia Institute’s Fall Creative Writing Workshops are set to begin. Led by professional writers and writing instructors, each workshop is designed to meet the needs of writers working in all genres at all levels. Currently there are six different workshop locations:

Ontario, led by Charlotte Davidson [*Closed: Full]; Riverside, led by Jo Scott-Coe; Corona, led by Matthew Nadelson; Idyllwild, co-led by Myra Dutton and Jean Waggoner; Palm Springs, led by Alaina Bixon; and San Bernardino, led by Andrea Fingerson.

Each workshop series is approximately 10 weeks long, meeting every other week unless specified. Workshops are free and open to the public but registration is required.

Please RSVP to cati.porter@inlandiainstitute.org. Registration forms will be emailed prior to and/or distributed during the first session.

And, while these workshops are free and open to the public, in order to keep them that way, we do ask that you consider an optional but suggested donation of $25 for the entire series. Information about why this is necessary is included in the registration packet.

 

Dates and times vary by location:

Ontario [*Closed: Full]

 

Led by Charlotte Davidson

6 pm – 8 pm

September 10 & 24, October 8, 22, and November 5

 

Ovitt Family Community Library

215 E C St

Ontario, CA 91764

 

Idyllwild

 

Led jointly by Myra Dutton & Jean Waggoner

2 pm – 4 pm

First Friday of every month

 

Idyllwild Public Library

54401 Village Ctr Dr

Idyllwild, CA 92549

 

Corona

 

Led by Matt Nadelson

7 pm – 8:30 pm

September 9, 23, October, 7, 21, and November 18

 

Corona Public Library

650 S Main St

Corona, CA 92882

 

Riverside

 

Led by Jo Scott-Coe

6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

September 25, October 9, 23, November 6, and 20

 

Riverside Public Library

3581 Mission Inn Ave

Riverside, CA 92501

 

Palm Springs

 

Led by Alaina Bixon

2 pm – 4 pm

October 8, 22, November 5, 19, and December 3

 

Smoke Tree Racquet Club

1655 E Palm Canyon Dr

Palm Springs, CA 92264

 

Free parking, accessible from E Palm Canyon or the Citibank lot on the corner of Sunrise/Hwy 111.

 

San Bernardino

 

Led by Andrea Jill Fingerson

3:30 pm – 5:30 pm

September 23, October 7, 21, November 4, and 18

 

Feldheym Library

555 W 6th St

San Bernardino, CA 92410


Alaina Bixon leads writing workshops, including Inlandia’s creative writing workshops in Palm Springs, edits books, and reads for the online journal The Whistling Fire. She is working on an article about women at MIT.

Jo Scott-Coe is the author of Teacher at Point Blank. Her essays can be found in Salon, Memoir, TNB, River Teeth, Hotel Amerika, Fourth Genre, and the Los Angeles Times. Jo is currently an associate professor of English at Riverside City College and the faculty editor of MUSE.

Charlotte Davidson received a Masters in English from Syracuse University followed by an MFA in poetry from UC Irvine. Her first book, Fresh Zebra, appeared in 2012. Charlotte leads Inlandia’s creative writing workshops in Ontario.

Myra Dutton is the author of Healing Ground: A Visionary Union of Earth and Spirit, which was a 2004 Narcissus Book Award finalist and a 2006 selection for “Ten Books We Love” by Inland Empire Magazine.

Andrea Fingerson has taught preschool, reading, and high school English. Currently, she teaches Child Development classes to teen parents. She received her MFA in Fiction from CSUSB. During that time she was a Fiction Editor for Ghost Town and the high school Outreach Coordinator for The Pacific Review. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is currently in the process of editing a young adult novel.

Matthew Nadelson teaches writing at Norco College and leads a creative writing workshop at the Corona Public Library (every other Tuesday from 6 pm to 8 pm) through the Inlandia Institute. He has lived and worked in Riverside County since 1997 (with the exception of a brief stint in San Diego at SDSU, where he earned his MFA in creative writing, from 2002 to 2005). His writing has been featured in more than 20 journals and anthologies, and he was recently featured on the Moon Tide Press website as their “Poet of the Month” for December 2013. His first poetry collection, American Spirit, was published in August 2011 by Finishing Line Press.

Jean Waggoner, a published fine arts reviewer, poet, essayist and story writer, has taught college English and English as a Second Language in Riverside County for the past thirteen years and co-leads the Idyllwild poetry and creative writing workshops for Inlandia Institute. Jean is an advocate for part time faculty equity and co-author of a book on the part-time professor experience, The Freeway Flier & the Life of the Mind.

* Charlotte Davidson’s workshop is now CLOSED due to maximum enrollment; please check back in winter to see if openings are available or join one of our other upcoming workshops that still have seats. San Bernardino and Corona both have openings.

Christie Hall

Wanda and Mildred

          Wanda and her mother, Mildred, first came to my yoga studio in downtown Riverside in 2003, perhaps 2002.
         The sprawling space sat downstairs in what had been the Aurea Vista Hotel and then a furniture store. We had 1,800 square feet of antique wooden floor, no heating, no air conditioning and west-facing windows that showed the parking lot across the street, pedestrians and the occasional homeless wanderer. In the afternoons and evenings, the space resounded with the sounds of young would-be ballerinas thudding onto the ballet studio floor, which comprised the same boards as my ceiling.
         Wanda brought her mother to the slow-paced class, so named to encourage seniors and those with physical problems.
         Wanda did tai chi, got acupuncture for neck problems and sought whole health. She had other physical issues she didn’t talk about much. I learned about these when she reassured other students struggling with similar problems, telling them how much yoga had helped her.
         Mildred had stiff hips, hamstrings and tight ankles. Mostly, though, she dealt with asthma in class. Any pose that involved lying on the floor left her gasping.
         They both stood about 5 feet tall and had boxy builds. They loved great jewelry and getting bargains on stylish eyeglass frames in LA. Wanda had short, dark hair. Mildred had soft, white hair. They loved their family and they constantly extended that family as a way of helping others. When they met someone in need, they literally opened their doors, whether a car door to help someone get around town or, in Wanda’s case, opening her home to a teenager who needed a place where he could just let down his guard.
         The first time they came to class, Wanda brought her mother, and yet smiled and detached herself from the outcome.  Everyone who brings a friend or loved one to yoga knows that’s all you can do. After that, either the yoga works for someone or it doesn’t. Wanda knew that no amount of pushing would work.  She loved yoga and hoped her mother would, too.
         Mildred gave me looks I came to know well, a kind of “we’ll see”, her eyebrows flicking upward, accompanied with a shrug of her shoulders and a smile so slight I almost missed it. The poses I teach don’t look particularly hard, but I ask students to question their own inner workings, and that’s where the challenge comes. For someone like Mildred, I hoped to improve her posture enough that her breath might come more easily. It’s no simple thing to change a lifetime of habits.  If you’ve spent six or more decades letting your shoulders weigh heavily on you, when a teacher asks you to do something that might release your shoulder blades back on the rib cage, “we’ll see” is normal response.
          I thought in those first few classes Mildred had been pretty much dragged there by Wanda. Over time I learned that Mildred couldn’t be dragged anywhere, but she was willing to try, often repeatedly, something that might help make life better. A few weeks after she started, she showed up with her own tiger-stripe patterned mat. Several weeks later, pneumonia kept Wanda from class for several sessions, but Mildred came on her own.
          She tried every thing I could think of to get her into some kind of inversion that might help her asthma. I tried many versions of a supported bridge pose. In one, she would come lying flat, knees bent, and lift her hips so I could slide a block under her pelvis. In another approach, she sat on a narrow stack of blankets, folded about 6 inches wide and two feet long. She lay back with the support under her spine and then let her shoulders slide off the blankets until they touched the floor. Every attempt ended with her struggling for breath.
          Even the most restful position I knew, what some of my students called “day-at-the-spa” pose, left Mildred breathless unless I built up the support. Called supine bound angle pose, it involves sitting on the floor and then lying back on a narrow stack of two blankets, with the head supported. The knees are folded outward and the soles of the feet rest against each other, with the outer thighs supported. Most students find the gentle chest opening and the hip opening deeply relaxing. She could manage it, but not enjoy it, once she was sitting up at almost 60 degrees instead of the usual 30.
          One day Mildred complained about how difficult her outing had been at an outlet mall. Her feet and ankles had hurt so much that she couldn’t walk much. I showed her how to do virasana, hero pose, while sitting in a chair. One leg at a time, she folded first one knee and then the other behind, stretching out the front of the ankle, then the back of the heel. About a month later, she reported that she was back in full shopping form, able to traverse the length of the Cabazon outlet stores.
          For some years, we stopped having her try supine poses. Then about 10 years later, she just got herself down on the floor, and lying on her back, lifted her hips up into bridge pose. She would do corpse pose lying flat, although sometimes she spent more time lying on her side.
          She had tight hamstrings and getting up and down off the floor was tough. Still, she did it, most days. Some days she didn’t, and I knew that if she could, she would. I would ask her, is this day for getting down on the floor? If not, I would set her up in the resting pose reclined in a chair. One other determining factor was the one-inch long rotator cuff tear that made it hard for her to push up off a chair.  Doctors had wanted to repair it surgically. She refused and went to physical therapy. She continued with her yoga. Eventually, she dropped the physical therapy because, she said, she hurt worse afterward.
          I watched over the years as she kept trying the poses that challenged her asthma, her hamstrings, her shoulder.
          Finally, she could keep her breathing soft and easy while taking part in supine big toe pose, a full series done lying on her back with different positioning of the legs. Her hamstrings never became what anyone else would call flexible, but the standing forward bend that had felt like torture to her hamstrings evolved until she could rest her head on the back of a chair and find some mental quiet. The rotator cuff tear ceased to be an issue as she became able to raise both her arms skyward, where once the injured shoulder prevented her from even raising that arm parallel to the floor. In a version of down dog done seated, with the arms above her head, supported by the wall, she could reach evenly through both arms.
          In the last few years, she could do it all.
Throughout the process, Wanda stayed close, protective in the way a mother might be toward an adult child who might not welcome the help. She had the same quiet smile as her mother. When they started attending class, to Mildred’s soft white hair, Wanda’s was a deep brown.
          Wanda showed up in class one day with a gray buzz cut. She had gone gray when she was 18 and had decided: Enough hours had been spent dying her hair brown. She looked beautiful with half-inch long hair. She had as many or more health issues as her mother, but I didn’t hear about any except when she needed help modifying a pose, primarily to deal with neck pain.
          More often I heard from her when something was going right: “Thanks to you. Thanks to yoga” she would tell me. I always contradicted her: “No. Thanks to you and yoga.”
          After a while, Mildred was the one bringing people to my class, some with minimal problems such as a dowager’s hump and tight shoulders, another one with Parkinson’s. She would make sure to tell me when the woman with Parkinson’s was having a particularly bad balance day or if she had fallen and been injured. Mildred would help out with bringing chairs, bolsters or wooden blocks to her friend. Usually, these things were ready to hand because Wanda had brought them over, making it easier for her mother to help her friend.
          Once after I had been gone for a couple of weeks, I started a class by saying “next we’ll do” and Mildred filled in the pause with an answer: “jumping jacks!” I learned how she had faced down a substitute teacher when he was teaching the class to jump their feet apart for wide-leg standing poses. After asking his age, she told me, she had said, “Well, you’re 28 and I’m 83, and I’m not jumping.”
          I burst out laughing and said, “Good. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?” And I turned it into a lesson for the day: that yoga is done by cultivating discriminative intelligence, according to the Yoga Sutras, the earliest writings on the subject.
          Mildred was what I want from all my students: to be a discriminating student of yoga. She questioned, prodded, experimented. She never gave up. She was attending class until just a few months before she died of cancer. She was 86.
          At the Riverside National Cemetery, dozens of family, friends and her fellow church members gathered on a day swept clear by Santa Ana winds, mallard ducks and black coots floating on a nearby pond. The minister talked about Mildred’s family and the things she loved to do. I was surprised to learn she had been a teacher. I had known only that she had been knowledgeable about gems. She had left her native Puerto Rico to go to college in the Midwest and there she had met her husband, who was in the Air Force. Given how acutely Mildred tested me, maybe I should have known she had been a teacher herself.
          The minister said Mildred loved good cooking, particularly when someone else was doing it. We laughed. Then he said she loved yoga and dancing. My guard dropped, and I cried.
          It was a few months after that before Wanda came back to class. She had stopped coming before her mother died, she told me, because she couldn’t stop crying at the end of class when she was in corpse pose.
          When Wanda did return, it was to encourage another friend to come to yoga. This woman arrives in a Dial-a-Ride bus. The driver gets out and opens the back door and lowers the wheelchair platform so Lesley can roll up the wheelchair ramp . The bus is usually late, so Wanda leaps up and goes to open the door and to greet her friend, who suffered brain damage in a terrible car accident years earlier. Lesley rolls in with a sad smile, but always sharply dressed, sometimes with a sparkly hat and silver arm band. She was struggling with depression and Wanda thought yoga might help. Lesley says it has, she told me, partly because she feels she belongs.
          Wanda still sits at the back of the class, along the wall where students go who are not so strong or who have balance problems. Now someone else sits next to her in Mildred’s spot. Wanda finds new students to help, most recently assisting a gentle woman with Alzheimer’s who became easily confused and needed constant small reminders on what was happening.
          At first, Wanda would do an alternate pose at the end of class, but now she can do corpse pose again without crying.
          The slow-paced class has a wide range of ages and abilities. Some people sit on chairs instead of the floor for the beginning seated pose; some use a cane to negotiate the studio; some people grab straps and blocks for others.
          The slow-paced class is always packed, but even so, there’s an empty place there along the back wall near Wanda.

Christie Hall finally found herself rooted to the Inland area by her years of teaching yoga, first at a gym in Lake Arrowhead, then at her own studio in Riverside, at Riverside City College and Moreno Valley College and lately for another studio in Riverside. It’s an unlikely profession for someone who dreamed of being a foreign correspondent while attending Chaffey High School in Ontario and Pomona College in Claremont (where she earned a bachelor’s in international relations). Her journalism career had nothing at all foreign about it: She spent more than 20 years as an editor for the newspapers in Riverside and San Bernardino.

s. Nicholas

Fog

“Oh” I said as I stepped out of the Cedar Glen Laundromat. The fog was creeping past the trees and shops, through the parking lot, pressing its nose to the windows. It had slunk in quietly, like a tardy student, while our backs were turned folding towels and loading dryers. I stuffed my daughters into the truck, paralyzed in their seats under piles of clean blankets and precariously stacked baskets. We began the slow crawl, out to the road, toward the edge of the mountain. Never before had I considered this vehicle as a cage of steel. I drove blind, slowing down until we were inching along. I didn’t realize we were still moving until I pushed my foot harder down on the brake. My instinct was to hunker down, stay silent and hidden. Safer to be still rather than barreling into a car, or tree. The thick white out the window surrounded us until we felt the universe shrink to the cab of the truck. We were all that existed. Unable to see the world outside, it was difficult to even imagine and I told myself it was all still there, waiting for us to navigate our way through. “Ok” I whispered and willed myself to press my foot to the gas and continue. At the stop sign before the right turn onto Highway 18, I peered straight ahead, imagining the drop before us, creeping slowly into the road. See me, See me, See me. I muttered these words aloud, my hand hovering over the horn, not wanting to startle the Honda that was headed straight toward my side of the truck, but wanting to give a warning in case it did not veer. It also was creeping along and spotted us in time to steer clear. I hugged the right side of the road, closest to the mountain. We had lost the yellow, lost the white, driving not by memory or instinct. “There’s Rim.” My daughter’s tiny voice came from the backseat. The expansive parking lot of the high school to the right gave us a land mark and for those few seconds we breathed. Always, always was the emptiness to our left, the fog tricking us, pulling the truck closer to the edge. I made no deals with higher powers. I sent no frantic prayers for our safe return. I did not want to take my focus, even in the depths of my soul, from the shrouded road. In the silence of our box, we were connected, my girls and I. Each one focused on the gloom surrounding us. Strangely still for the adrenalin pounding through our veins. Without speaking our wills reached out to each other, bound by fear in an intimacy that we would rarely know in their teenage years to come.

——

s. Nicholas lives and teaches in the San Bernardino mountains. Nicholas was born and raised in the Inland Empire and finds that it is a source of continual inspiration for her. She is currently in the MFA program at Cal State San Bernardino and will be graduating in June.

Deanne Stillman

THE LOST CHILDREN OF THE INLAND EMPIRE
Excerpt from Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History (Nation Books, 2012)
My heart is broke
I have some glue

– Nirvana

They had names like Lizard and Paranoid Pam, and they were in bands like Let’s Go Bowling and Nazi Bitch. They hung out at a place called Spanky’s, a punk dive across the street from the Mission Inn in Riverside, California, the history-infused hospitality headquarters for presidents, foreign dignitaries, and well-heeled tourists. A lot of these kids were products of what were once called “broken homes,” but broken didn’t begin to explain it, and their stories spoke of a wreckage across the suburban lands of their home turf, the Inland Empire, that strangely named California region that is a corruption of a vanished real estate dream—the Orange Empire!—and has engendered all manner of jokes and disparagement—Conquer this!—and that no one can quite figure out the boundaries of, but most agree that it begins where greater Los Angeles bleeds into San Bernardino and Riverside counties and then the whole thing ends where a warehouse runs into the desert and people go shooting.

One day in 1989 ninth grader Chris Smallwood was walking through this region, down La Sierra Street in Riverside, where he lived with his mother and sister, heading to school. He met a kid named Chuck, aka Charles Donald Kueck, who had just rounded the corner from Doverwood, where he lived with his mother, her boyfriend, and two sisters, one from his mother’s first marriage and the other from her third. Chuck was tall and skinny and dressed in black—black T-shirt, black leather jacket, black jeans, black boots—and he was pushing a ten-speed bike. He was a bit embarrassed about his impaired vehicle situation and later, by way of explanation, added some information about his family, off-hand comments that to an outsider would sound an alarm: “My mother’s wasted and so’s her old man.” But not here in this working-class neighborhood of small one- and two-bedroom homes, where the mothers were beleaguered and the fathers were broken, often absent because of divorce or jail time, or at home, barely hanging on, drowning in booze or drugs, lashing out at their wives and kids, at ghosts, trying to shake off a legacy of poverty and violence that dated back to the clan rivalries of their Scots-Irish forebears, some of whom came to America as indentured white slaves. On the day of that first encounter, the boys formed a quick bond, mainly because of the neighborhood that they lived in and the mutual knowledge of what that meant. As they continued on to school, they discussed matters of the day, discovering their shared love of certain bands—Black Flag, Social Distortion, the Dead Kennedys—and spoke of their own musical aspirations. From then they on were buddies.

A few weeks later, a kid named Rande Linville was standing outside the window of a liquor store in downtown Riverside. It was 1:30 in the morning and he was about to break in. But he heard the sound of skateboard wheels on pavement and turned to look. “There were these two guys on boards,” he says. “I was surprised to see them because there weren’t very many skateboarders then. And most of them looked like me, blonde, clean-cut, with surfer hair. These guys were wearing black leather jackets and looked like punks.” They were Chuck Kueck and Chris Smallwood and along with Rande they were about to become a close band of friends who called themselves The Three Amigos—a reference to the John Landis movie with Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin, in which three actors who play gunfighters end up in a Mexican village where they actually have to fend for themselves.

As they stood in the parking lot on the night of their first encounter, Rande asked, “What’s up?” He was wondering if he was going to have to fight two people off for the swag from the liquor store, especially because there appeared to be a serious tribal difference if you judged the situation by clothing alone. And then came the response: “What’s up?” For a moment there was a standoff, and then Chris decided to end it, reaching into his crotch—to Rande’s alarm—and pulling out an American flag. “Dude,” Rande said, “whaaa?” Chris explained that they were out stealing flags and were on their way back to Chuck’s house to burn them. The news was startling and hilarious, and Rande cracked up and then they all started laughing, and then Rande explained his break-in plans. Chuck and Chris approved and Rande picked up his skateboard and smashed the window. Chuck dove in and then the other two boys followed, returning with candy, cigarettes, and beer, and then they jumped on their boards. Instead of heading to Chuck’s, they cruised back to Rande’s apartment, a small, three-room unit he shared with his mother and sister in a nearby Section 8 housing project. Inside Rande’s bedroom, they cracked open a six-pack and started to drink. “Dude,” Chuck said as he looked around the room, “you like Black Flag?” He was referring to a wall poster and he was impressed. Then Chris joined in, noting a flyer for the Circle Jerks, and high-fiving Rande. Surprised that the surfy-looking guy would be into punk rock instead of metal, Chuck and Chris exchanged a look, and then Chuck turned to Rande. “I play bass,” he said. “Chris plays lead. We need a drummer. Do you—?” Before he could finish, Rande was in— as it turned out, he was a heavy metal drummer transitioning into punk, and he had been playing for a long time. Soon after that they formed their first band, named one night after Chris and Chuck had seen the Oliver Stone movie JFK and Chuck, recalls Chris, “was all, ‘Dude, dude, dude,’”—mimicking his friend—“Oswald was set up, we gotta call our band Oswald’s Revenge and I said, ‘Dude, that is so right,’ and from then on, that was our band.”

Chuck was now part of a world that was getting some serious attention; it included bands like No Doubt and the local outfit Voodoo Glow Skulls, regulars at Spanky’s and famous all over the country. In fact, amigo Rande Linville’s best friend was a member of the Glowskulls, the most revered band in the Inland Empire. Because of the association, Linville became a sought-after drummer, and his crew— Chuck, Chris, and all of their musician associates— assumed a high profile in the Inland Empire, their fame only adding to their street cred. When Gwen Stefani was in town, they could go backstage, and a couple of times they partied with one of their idols, Henry Rollins, along with his seminal OC band Black Flag. Along with outlaws like William Burroughs and Charles Bukowski, Rollins was a serious inspiration. Rollins looked and dressed like a skinhead, but he was anything but. Chuck often quoted from his book Pissing in the Gene Pool, with one passage holding particular relevance.

“I’ve got a roach crawling on my hand,” it went. “Should I kill it? . . . I don’t know, let me think. It was the first thought that popped into my head. I raised my other hand to crush it but all of a sudden I stopped dead in my tracks. I thought about all the people who think of me the same way I think of this roach. All the people who see me as a filthy crawling piece of vermin that should be destroyed. Hah! The roach is my brother and long may he prosper!”

Heartened by kindred spirits and part of a flourishing nationwide scene, Chuck and his friends were in demand as musicians, playing gigs around Riverside and once or twice at clubs in Los Angeles.

After a while, Oswald’s Revenge became other bands, as bands have a way of doing, but the three amigos were always in them, adding and subtracting other personnel, and they were always together, in spirit or in person, bonded forever by the fact that, as Rande recalls, they were “three fully abused kids who loved the same music.” In the annals of rough upbringings, this was not an exaggeration; they were indeed fully abused, but underlying that was a theme that ran through their lives, which could be summarized by way of one question: Where’s Dad?

* * * * *

In 1928, the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned a series of monuments called the Madonna of the Trail. There was one in each state along the National Old Trails Road, which extended from Maryland to California—twelve in all. The idea was to commemorate the pioneer woman whose strength and courage helped conquer the wilderness and make a new home in the Promised Land. Wrought from granite, the towering sculpture portrays a bonneted woman in full pioneer dress, baby in her arms and youngster at her side. She is in mid-stride, resolute, clutching a rifle. On February 1, 1929, the second to last of the Madonnas was dedicated in Upland, California, at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Euclid Avenue, a few miles from Riverside, where the first white trappers had entered the Golden State by land. The women who soon followed had not been acknowledged in such a way until this unveiling. “They were just as brave or braver than their men,” President Harry Truman had said at the ceremony for an earlier monument. “In many cases, they went with sad hearts and trembling bodies. They went, however, and endured every hardship that befalls a pioneer.”

Over 150 years later, little had changed on the frontier. Yes, it was modern and crowded, but still brutal, with women trying to hold the line. Amid a world of violence, on LaSierra Avenue in Riverside, Virginia Smallwood maintained a safe place—not for her, as it turned out, but for the kids who gathered there. Even while sometimes bruised and visibly battered, Virginia was everyone’s mother, or in the words of her daughter Amanda, she was “the community mom”—a comparatively stable parent with a steady job (she had resumed working as a dental assistant), a person who liked to take care of others, not so she could receive foster care payments from a government agency (as some who abused the system, and the kids in it, were known to do), but simply because she felt so inclined. Sooner or later, in this land of want and need, the children who wandered the malls looking for their own kind, or just drifted through because that’s where the trails led, made their way to the Smallwoods’ house, gathering ’round the table for dinner on any given evening, nurturing their weary bones with the burritos or chorizos and eggs cooked up by the generous Mrs. Smallwood, stretching her small salary to feed an army of haunted kids.

There was one kid who seemed a bit different, more troublesome, a tornado really; as soon as he started coming home with Chris, Virginia noticed that his energy was more chaotic and yet very intense and everyone seemed to fall under his spell. He was living with his mother at the time yet sometimes stayed on the streets, or at the homes of other kids, and soon, as always, his good looks, wit, and explosive charisma won the day, and Mrs. Smallwood permitted him to become a member of her household and move into her garage. Over time, she and the other members of her family learned the details of his personal story, and it was one of the worst she had heard, becoming more harrowing with every revelation, confirmed eventually by relatives and friends who had already fallen into his orbit.

Who can say when the trouble began? Certainly the fact that his father had walked out of his family’s life was a factor, opening up a fissure that would not come together again in spite of attempts by both father and son to reach across it after not having seen each other for over ten years. There were other factors too—a mother whose troubles were a mystery to outsiders and her involvement with a strange man whom Chuck and his friends came to call Ranch Dressing Rod, after his fondness for slathering food with this particular condiment. And by all means, we must consider genetics, which now show that nearly all aspects of personality, seemingly, are hard-wired (though susceptible to refinement in one way or another), and certainly we must acknowledge the general malaise that prevailed in the late twentieth-century cities of the Inland Empire, where the natural world was fast becoming a dream.

_______

Stillman Deanne (Mark lamonica) (3)Deanne Stillman is a widely published, critically acclaimed writer, often writing about the modern and frontier West with the Mojave Desert as a main character. Her latest book is Desert Reckoning, based on an award-winning Rolling Stone article. It was just named a “Southwest Book of the Year,” was a Rolling Stone “must-read for the summer” (2012), and was praised in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Los Angeles Magazine, Oregonian, Denver Post, Tucson Weekly, and elsewhere. She is also the author of Mustang, an LA Times “best book 08,” and winner of the California Book Award silver medal for nonfiction. In addition, she wrote the cult classic Twentynine Palms, an LA Times “best book 01” which Hunter Thompson called “A strange and brilliant story by an important American writer.” Deanne is a member of the core faculty at the UC Riverside-Palm Desert Low Residency MFA Creative Writing program.

Ruth Nolan Interviews Carlos E. Cortes

ROSE HILL: AN INTERMARRIAGE BEFORE ITS TIME
Published by Heyday Books, Berkeley, 2012 (173 pages)
Dr. Carlos E. Cortes, Inland Empire scholar, playwright, film collaborator and author, discusses his new book.
By Ruth Nolan
______

Arguably, this has been one of the hottest and most humid summers in the Inland Empire in recent memory, and the excessive heat has driven many people indoors, looking for something good to read. Fortunately, a compelling new memoir by one of our region’s most prolific academic scholars and longtime Riverside residents has appeared on the local literary horizon. Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time Time, published by Heyday and the Inlandia Institute earlier this year, was penned by Carlos E. Cortes, professor emeritus of history at University of California Riverside who also happens to be a prolific playwright/actor, lecturer, and collaborating writer for the popular children’s TV series, “Dora the Explorer.”

Cortes was born in Oakland in 1934, the son of a Mexican-American/Catholic father and German-American/Jewish mother, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri before attending University of California, Berkeley and eventually taking his teaching position at UCR in 1968. He took time recently from his busy schedule to talk about his book while sipping coffee and munching at oatmeal cookies at Riverside’s iconic Back to the Grind coffee house.

“At my daughter Alana’s request, more than 10 years ago, I agreed to write the stories of our family history,” Cortes says. “I never set out to write or publish a book. In fact, the whole thing ended up being about 600 pages, in all,” he chuckles.” He began by writing short mini-biographies about each of his grandparents, and then his parents, and then about other family members, until he ended up with somewhere between 50-60 little anecdotes that focused on each person’s life and character. Much of the manuscript was penned while he sat at a table along the downtown Riverside promenade adjacent to the Mission Inn.

He quickly realized, once he began to review what he had written, that what he had originally considered to be personalized family stories, written for his daughter, just might appeal to other people. He relates an anecdote about how, when he was reading part of the manuscript aloud to Alana while seated at a former Bob’s Big Boy restaurant located at the corner of University and Iowa Avenues in Riverside, another customer poked his head out from another booth, and said “that’s a great story! You should publish a book!”

He realized that the heart of his story collection resonated strongly with a number of cultural and historical themes and nuances common to most, if not, all of us, including the search for identity and belonging that so many people in our richly diverse multicultural and religious diaspora that comprises our society struggle to reckon with. As the son of a mixed race/religion family, and keenly aware all his life of the tug-of-war he lived in between his parents and other family members, Cortes has struck, and poignantly elicited, something that many readers can easily identify with.

Initially, Cortes skimmed his manuscript for the key ideas that formed the core of a one-hour, one-person play that he wrote, based on these stories, and titled it A Conversation with Alana: One Boy’s Multicultural Rite of Passage. He has subsequently performed the play more than one hundred times around the country.

He later decided to edit and create a narrative structure to his larger manuscript and publish it as a book. With help from Malcolm Margolin, publisher of Heyday Books – who he reveals that he shared a long lunch with, with both of them telling little stories in Yiddish as they discussed ideas for the book -, and Heyday’s Acquisitions Editor, Gayle Wattawa, the much-abbreviated, final version of the current book began to take form. He also notes that, in creating the final manusucript for the book, he took the advice of author Elmore Leonard, who wrote the novel Get Shorty: “…leave out the parts that people skip.” It seems to have worked for Cortes’ book.

“It was important to me that I make my book accessible to as many readers as possible,” he Cortes says. “I was hoping to open up a general discussion, among readers, and at the readings I do, about issues of mixed racial and cultural backgrounds, which affects so many people everywhere in the melting pot of our society. I wanted to help articulate the experience, and find a common thread in this that others can relate to, so they don’t feel so isolated.”

The start of Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time begins, for example, by giving the reader a clear sense of this, at the start of Chapter 1: “Dad was a Mexican Catholic. Mom was a Kansas City-born Jew with Eastern European immigrant paragraphs. They fell in love in Berkeley, California, and got married in Kansas City, Missouri. That, alone, would not have been a big deal. But it happened to be 1933” (p.1).

The narrative arc of the book follows his parent’s controversial marriage and his own birth and growing-up years in Kansas City, and is told in short chapters, each of which serves as its own vignette, as a story in itself. Cortes reveals his parents’, and his own, struggles in their search for belonging to a society that all too often expects people, and family, to fit into neatly-prescribed and restrictive “norms.”

Although much of the book’s setting is placed in Kansas City, the book does have a definite Inland Empire-area flavor. Cortes talks, later in the book, about how he came to play an important role in the development of inter-cultural curriculum at UCR, as creator of the university’s Chicano Studies program in the 1970’s, which helped both him and his father reaffirm their Mexican-American heritage.

There’s also the passage in the book where Cortes and his wife discover his parent’s decades-old love letters, in storage in Cortes’ garage in Riverside. “Now, at the very time I was trying to reconstruct our family’s story, the letters had been revealed to me,” he writes. “And as I read them, I yet again rediscovered my family, as I had so many times before” (p. 160). The letters had somehow survived many moves across the country, and in fact, Cortes had almost mistakenly thrown them out while moving.

The overall impression of this gently-rendered, often humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, and honestly-written memoir is one that will remain with most readers, long after they’ve finished reading. Taken as a whole, the stories are highly readable, familiar, spirit warming and also, in a profound but never forceful manner, tinged consistently by the current of the book’s wider sense of vision and the compelling themes that it evokes.

In the past few months, Cortes has given readings from Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time throughout the Inland Empire, which he combines with a question and discussion forum with his audience. So far, he’s appeared at events sponsored by the Inlandia Institute, the Inland Empire Latino Artists, the Redlands Library, and at at UCR and at the annual Cesar E. Chavez breakfast in Riverside. He continues to give readings, and will soon be appearing at College of the Desert in Palm Desert and at a book festival scheduled at Barnes and Noble in Riverside this fall.

“It’s important to open up the dialogue on these issues,” Cortes says. “So far, all kinds of people have approached me to say that the book has given them a sense of understanding and familiarity with some of the bi-racial and bi-cultural and other issues of social duality that they struggle with.”

Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time may be purchased at the Heyday Books website or by contacting the Inlandia Institute.

—-

Ruth Nolan is a native of the Mojave Desert and a former California Desert District/Bureau of Land Management helicopter hotshot and engine crew firefighter. She is now Professor of English and creative writing at College of the Desert, and a California desert literature scholar. She is also a widely published poet/writer/photographer focused on writing and lecturing about California desert cultural and conservation issues, and is editor of No Place for a Puritan: the literature of California’s deserts, published by Heyday Books in 2009. She is a regular columnist contributing desert feature stories online for Heyday Books, and KCET Artbound, Los Angeles and has been a contributing writer to Desert Star Weekly Alternative. Nolan lives in Palm Desert blogs about life in the desert at http://ruthnolan.blogspot.com. She can be reached at runolan@aol.com

Kathryn Wilkens

           Kathryn Wilkens has been participating in the Inlandia Creative Writing Workshop in Ontario since September 2011, and in that time it has become apparent that Kathryn’s work is that of a seasoned writer and not a novice. In this piece, “Crossroads”, her rich descriptions of rural life embody both the joy and heartache of childhood, and are representative of her skill in her favored form — the personal essay.
          — Cati Porter

___

Crossroads

          Barefoot, I slammed through the screen door, bounded down the gravel driveway past the abandoned chicken coop and ran toward the golden fields of midsummer grain. When I passed the equipment shed, my eyes swept to the left, then widened as I stopped short. My heart pounded as I took in a row of stunted cornstalks rustling listlessly in the breeze.

          Of course corn was a common sight in the Midwest—driving down the road you’d see rows of lush green corn stretching off to the horizon. But these plants had emerged in an odd place: on an earthen ramp, directly in front of the double doors which Dr. Martin would soon slide open to roll out the huge harvester. He would wonder how in the heck cornstalks had sprouted there. I was pretty sure I knew.

          The farmhouse my family rented from Dr. Martin was at a crossroads on U.S. 27, two miles south of Lynn, Indiana. A gravel road ran along one side of the property, then skirted soybean fields and crossed railroad tracks before disappearing into the woods. We moved there the summer I was five. My first memories are indistinct, like an Impressionist painting by Monet: flashing fireflies in glass jars, a green sofa where I lay recovering from measles and mumps, newborn kittens mewling their helplessness.

          It was a four-season home. On autumn Saturdays we visited apple farms and burned piles of leaves that fell from elms and maples. In winter, storms coated branches with gleaming ice, and I learned how to skate on the frozen creek.  The whole house vibrated when a truck backed in the driveway and let loose a load of coal which tumbled down a chute into the basement.

          In spring I inhaled organic smells the sun coaxed from the ground on windy days. Along the railroad tracks grew wild strawberries which my older sisters, brother and I picked and ate. We lined up pennies on the rail and waited for the next train to flatten them to the size of fifty-cent pieces.

          In summer we set off fireworks in the driveway, ran through wheat fields after a rain and walked on stilts. At night we spread blankets in the front yard to count cars whizzing past and trace the Big Dipper in the sky.

          Some things lasted year-round—fighting between Dad and my brother, my sisters’ bickering, silent strife between Mom and Grandma. As the youngest in the family, I was powerless to intervene, so I spent time alone—wandering along the creek or reading Bambi in a tree.

          Or I’d play with the litter of kittens in the hay barn. My favorite one, the calico, died and I cried for days. Not long after, a group of men came to shear the sheep, and must have forgotten to close the gate when they left. After dark the flock escaped and several sheep ran onto the busy highway and were killed.

          That summer my mother planted a vegetable garden which yielded tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. Just for fun I filched a dried-up ear of field corn from the barn, broke off a few kernels and pretended to plant them on the ramp behind the equipment shed.

          Weeks later, as I ran by barefoot, I saw the row of puny cornstalks. Didn’t the corn know I was only playing? Apparently not—the stalks were undeniable proof that it had taken me seriously. My heart pounded—not in fear, but in the dawning awareness that something I did had actually brought about a change in the world.

          By the time I turned seven my Monet memories were sharpening into focus. We would soon move away from the house at the crossroads, a place that marked for me another kind of crossroads, the intersection of childhood and—not adulthood, certainly, but call it personhood. While living there I had learned to count, read, ride a bike and ice skate. I confronted sadness and loneliness. I began to see that a world existed beyond my family, a world of specificity.

          I lived in a particular place. Other places could be reached by going north, south, east or west. The things around me could be counted: two sisters, seven kittens, one brother. Dr. Martin’s farm covered sixty acres, with forty trees around the house. There were 26 letters in the alphabet and 48 stars on the flag. I fit into a logical, quantifiable scheme where nothing was random or vague. My actions had consequences and those consequences were predictable. A penny left on the railroad track would be flattened by the next freight train. And seeds, poked into the earth in jest, would grow into serious cornstalks

___

Kathryn Wilkens began writing for publication in 2000. Several of her travel articles have appeared in The Los Angeles Times. She has written essays and articles for Writers’ Journal, Personal Journaling, Verbatim and The Christian Science Monitor. Four of her essays have appeared in anthologies, most recently Writers and Their Notebooks (South Carolina Press, 2009). She lives a short drive from the Ovitt Family Community Library in Ontario where she has enjoyed Cati Porter’s Inlandia workshop.

Kate Anger

Self-Culture at the Arlington Branch Library, Riverside

An essay inspired by and subsequently delivered at the Inlandia reading celebrating the launch of its online journal at the Arlington Public Library, Riverside on July, 16, 2011.

“The only way to culture the working classes is to place books among them”
– Andrew Carnegie

           Between 1889 and 1923, industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and his foundation funded 142 free public libraries in California (1,689 in total). If a community had the will, the land, and the commitment to public funding through taxes, the foundation would grant support. While this library is technically not a Carnegie library, the city was able to build it after obtaining a Carnegie grant for the expansion of the downtown library. With $7,500 in “extra” funding, the Greek revival structure was built, along with a firehouse attached to the back; it was the city’s first “branch” library.

           You are sitting in my childhood library. Not modern like its “boss” library downtown with the blue tile fountain you could walk around and floating stairs like on the Brady Bunch. The Arlington Branch was older, less fashionable, its milky-green, glass panes more serious—a dignified grandmother’s house. One entered on the side of the building, off Roosevelt Street, but even as a young child, it was clear to me the library had had another life before I started coming in the early 1970s. Peering into the “adult room”—now the community center where we gather today—I could see how the entrance had been on Magnolia Avenue, fronted by great columns; I could picture ladies in long, white dresses and men in bowler hats milling about and I felt connected to them. Sometimes I’d seek out the oldest books in the collection and hold them. I’d make myself as still as possible and close my eyes, my own version of psychometrics—the art of “communicating” with people via objects they’ve held. Maybe, just maybe, I’d get a glimpse of the library through their eyes. And in a way, of course, I did communicate with the dead in that library—authors long gone, their stories, hopes and heresies traveling on.

           I am a first generation Californian. We moved to Riverside in 1965 when my dad bought a pawnshop on Market Street (six months after downtown’s new central library was dedicated and a few years after the great, Mission-Revival Carnegie was torn down). I had no grandparents, no aunts, no uncles, and no cousins within 1,200 miles. I lived in a little box house that was less than 20 years old with furniture younger than that. No history, no tradition encumbered us. Studies show that kids without siblings—“only children”—bond more intensely with peers than do children that have siblings. I think this may be true of children without roots to place. Perhaps they bond more intensely to place than do people who have roots. Wanting to belong, I wrapped the town’s narrative into my own. At eight, I read The Queen’s Own Grove by Riverside author Patricia Beatty. Set in Riverside in 1881, it gave voice to what I’d been imaging all along. I adopted the heroine, Amelia Bromfield-Brown—a transplant like myself—as my ancestor and then creatively “cast” the Heritage House (a Queen-Anne style residence and city landmark, just one mile east on Magnolia) as Amelia’s home and my library as her own. (This connection with historic Riverside ran so deep that thirty years later I was still obsessed with founding families and orange groves and explored them my thesis play: Orange Grove.) So when I say this was my library, it was my library. I felt connected to those early twentieth-century library patrons because we shared the same space (and, as I got older, some of the same authors). They belonged here and so did I; I had the card and the card was all you needed.

           The Children’s Room is where we all start out if we’re lucky enough to have a parent who likes books—or even air conditioning (I make no judgments). We didn’t go to church (another thing that marked us as outsiders in Riverside in the 1960s-70s), but we entered the library with a kind of reverence. Beatrix Potter was my first high-priestess. Her tales of disobedience and punishment were nothing if not Old Testament, and the eventual welcoming back of the naughty kitten or disobedient bunny into the fold was a lesson in grace and forgiveness. I loved the way those books were perfectly sized for my little hands. I never tired of the mesmerizing, watercolor illustrations of little animals in coats drinking tea. I wanted to crawl inside and live there. Books can still make me feel that way. From this building, over and over, I checked out the Beatrix Potter books, as well as Clifford the Big Red Dog, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Where the Wild Things Are, Bread and Jam for Frances. Then I moved on to the Little House Books and the Encyclopedia Brown series, drawn to characters with pluck and grit—not to mention checking out every non-fiction book on horses (a cliché, I know).

           From a turn-of-the-century tract written by a group of New York state librarians: “The public library… shall forever stand as a monument of the homage paid by the people to self-culture.” Self-culture. Similar to one’s spiritual path, the library path was self-directed. Unlike with the school library, I wasn’t restricted to any one “age appropriate” section. I could wander at will. Go where my curiosity led, thanks in part to Carnegie, who was an advocate for “open stack” libraries where patrons were free to browse; in his time, many libraries were “closed stack,” requiring a librarian retrieve a requested book. At the library, they left you alone. Maybe this is why I don’t recall deep and abiding relationships with the librarians I must have encountered there. They were helpful when you needed them, but invisible and quiet when you didn’t. They didn’t care what you checked out. Bring it back (unmarked) was the only contract. They didn’t even check to see if you’d read it. It still brings me a certain “mission accomplished” satisfaction to return a stack of library books on time.

           At some point I moved—as we all do—away from the children’s room. In late elementary school I devoured tawdry, implausible tales by V.C. Andrews and Sidney Sheldon. And when my grandmother moved to California, I started reading the large print editions of the classics my mother checked out for her: Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre in 18-point font. And non-fiction too: I can still remember the spot where all the Edgar Cayce books were kept: shelves of testimonials of near death experiences, encounters with the beyond—proof!—of life after death. Again, like church, the library held hope of eternal life.

           And no great cathedral is complete without art. At the Arlington Branch library in the 1970s, they didn’t just loan books and music, but art as well. We kept a spot reserved in our dining room for our monthly library “picture.” On “picture day,” we’d scour the back wall to see if our favorites were available: Renoir’s little girl; Seurat’s park; Waterhouse’s ladies-on-the-verge. Sometimes we’d have to settle for a moody Rembrandt or worse, a still life, but the space was always filled for us, a people inclined towards self-culture, a people sustained and lifted in this place with books among us. Thank you, Andrew Carnegie, and Patricia Beatty, and the unobtrusive librarians of my youth.

           Keeping with the library as church theme, I offer this benediction, a twist on the traditional Irish blessing:

May a chair rise up to meet you,
May a comfy pillow find your back,
May a good book fall into your hands,
And until we meet again, may we read, read, read and remember
enough of what we’ve read to have a halfway decent conversation.

~

Sources

Bulletin of the New York Public Library, Volume 24 By New York Public Library, p. 708

http://www.raincrosssquare.com/mt/2008/06/arlington_branch_library_reopens.php

http://www.carnegie-libraries.org/