Ruben Rodriguez

A Craving

The whole place smelled of beef—bloody meat.  Tammy had come to the carniceria six days in a row.  A back corner griddle sizzled and popped with meat spared from behind butcher glass.  They double stacked the small corn tortillas to cover with healthy bunches of chopped meat, cilantro, and onion.  Five dollars bought five tacos and a tall plastic cup of jamaica.

Tammy’s cravings brought her here.  A loud place full of commotion with two plastic tables and three plastic chairs crammed against the wall nearest the cooker and opposite the long meat case.  She’d munch tacos and watch the people shop.

Some, she saw everyday.  An old woman in a familiar blue dress looked at her, and then squinted at Tammy’s round belly.  The first couple of times, Tammy worried that the woman might be cursing her baby, but the tacos were so good, Tammy ignored the thought and tried to ignore the old woman too.

A handsome young man with a reversed ball cap and scar across his lip would come in for his daily tall cans and a bag of chicharron.  He smiled once at Tammy, and she returned his smile wondering what his name might be. She wished she could reach out and grab the young man, feel his rough worn hands in hers, but he was out of her reach.

The woman who kept permanent sovereignty behind the counter initially cooed at Tammy, for a pregnant woman is adored in all cultures.  As Tammy’s cravings brought her back again and again, the woman behind the counter only forced a smirk.  Her narrowed eyes asked, What are you doing here, wedda?

In the parking lot, Tammy often stood a moment next to her car.  She looked across the street into a park.  The jungle gym covered in frisky little monkeys their mothers huddled together or displaced upon benches.  She’d hear the high pitch squeals of the children leap across the road.  The baby would kick, and Tammy would lay a hand on her belly and whisper, Soon child, soon.

An MFA student at CSUSB, Ruben Rodriguez writes, paints, and wastes his time at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains. He is the fiction editor of The Great American Lit Mag. Many of his stories have been deemed fit for consumption by the likes of Reunion: The Dallas Review, TINGE, The Nassau Review, ZAUM, theNewerYork, and others. He is the author of the chapbook, We Do What We Want (Orange Monkey Publishing, 2015). You can find him at www.rubenstuff.com.

Ryan Garcia

Rather Than Making You Go To School

You look over to your baby brother to make sure that he hasn’t lost his grip on his bottle.  Your mother paces from room to room, throwing blouses and shoes every which way.  She hopes that the interview promises her the job, the one she’s been telling you about for weeks.  The job she’s talked about so much and with such passion that you begin to think that prepping and pounding out masa for a local panaderia is the best thing you can do in America.

Your brother, mijo, she says.

You look over to Miguel.  He fell asleep with the nipple of the bottle hanging off his bottom lip, formula running down his little chest.  You slowly take the bottle from him, and gently dab at his body with the bib.  He’s wearing a plain blue shirt, and one of your baseball t’s as a diaper – a dark blue center, and black sleeves.  Mamá ran out of diapers just this morning, and when she had asked you for a shirt for Miguel you handed her one thinking that she was going to be using it as a pillow or blanket.  Not a diaper.

I’ll get the job, chiquito, she said as she wrapped it around his tiny bottom, we’ll get you more shirts.  Okay, let’s get going.

You pick up Miguel’s carrier, trying to keep it steady with your 13 year old flaquito arms.  Mamá turns to lock the door, then the gate, and walks in front of you.  Her chanclas slap the cement the whole way out.  You two approach the bus stop that stands just outside the complex and wait for the 38, heading towards the Fashion District.  The little hole in the wall apartment you call home sits around the corner from Hollenbeck Park.  You hear the quick hissing of the bus’ shifting gears come down the street, and lift Miguel’s carrier up off the bench.  Mamá brings her purse up to her chest and begins to shuffle around for a couple dollars.  The black rubber that lines the doors pop open right before you two.

Main and 12th, says the driver.

Mamá looks over to you and nods towards the door.

Up up up, she says.

You bring Miguel up to your chest and stretch your legs out in search of the first step, remembering to not put so much of the carrier’s weight on you that you go falling backwards.  The sun begins to peer over buildings and beam into the bus as you walk down the aisle.  Its color isn’t yellow, nor orange, but rather a multitude of citrus hues and shades that have swallowed each other, producing a color somehow only found in Los Angeles.  You spot two empty seats towards the back of the bus and lift Miguel up as you inch your way over to the window.  Mamá takes the aisle seat and helps you situate the carrier on your lap.  As your bodies sway and dance with the turns of the bus, you watch the city come more alive with each passing block.  Iron shop gates are lifted, owners begin to sweep entry ways, and the thump of mariachi rises and fills the air.  On this side of L.A., it’s never too early to start blasting the mariachi; your own instrumental rooster, cock-a-doodle-doo’ing from shop to shop.

You grab ahold of the carrier’s handle as the bus begins to slow down along the curb.  Mamá sits up and makes her way through the knees and purses that protrude into the aisle way, and you follow keeping a firm hold of the carrier.  You both step down from the bus onto the sidewalk and, for a moment, take in the smells and sounds that swirl through the air just above your heads.  Knock off colognes and perfumes are sprayed generously by shopkeepers onto tiny sticks of paper and practically shoved into the faces of passerby’s so as to allure them into a purchase, then you catch the scent of your favorite treat, one that you have always thought was made of the most oddly combined ingredients, but still produced a masterpiece.

Mamá, elote? you ask.

Aye, chiquito, come on we’re late!

You frown and look down to Miguel, hoping he’d feel your disappointment, wake, and start crying.

In a few years, you whisper, you’ll cry for elotes.

You walk in front of mamá for a few minutes before you come to the panaderia.  She reaches into her larger bag and pulls out a pair of sneakers – immaculately white.  Sneakers that she’s kept white and clean for such occasions; gently dabbing bleach on the soles and canvas after each use.  She puts her hand on your shoulder as she reaches down to slip off her chanclas, one by one.  Then steps into the sneakers she laid on the floor.

Okay, chico, she says as she stuffs the chanclas in her bag, let’s go inside.
She opens the door, and you find a small table close to the counter.  You set Miguel’s carrier up carefully in the middle, trying your hardest not to rock him so much that he wakes.  Mamá walks up to the counter and sets her items on top.

Hola?  she says, Hola.

A small woman walks from the backroom to where mamá is standing.  Their introductions are short before they start to take their conversation to the backroom where the woman had come from.

Thomás, she says, watch Miguel.  Stay right here.

They walk away.  You look down to Miguel, still asleep, and see your baseball-T coming undone.  You reach in softly, placing one sleeve over the other so as to loop them around each other and knot them up again, bringing the shirt higher so that it doesn’t fall and wrinkle at his waist.  He shifts gently.  The bass from the mariachi outside continues to thump, the accordion now beginning to chime in on what feels like an impending solo.  With your fingertips still grazing the t-shirt, you look over to the clock that hangs over entry way.  8:48 am.  You exhale, stomach beginning to growl for elotes, and look down to Miguel whose hand now wraps around your index and middle fingers.  You cross them in his palm.

Fingers crossed, carnal, you say, fingers crossed. 

Ryan Garcia is a 27 year old MFA Fiction Candidate currently attending Cal State San Bernardino. His work has appeared in The Pacific Review.

Love That Dog: A Novel by Joan Koerper

Sixty-six. That was the final tally of books I read for the “50 Book Challenge” this past February. Sponsored by the San Bernardino County Library, the reward for checking out and reading fifty books was a book bag. I didn’t need another book bag. But I thought that participating would be a way to catch up on some award-winning children’s and young people’s books, revisit old favorites, and explore new-to-me adult reads. It was a terrific adventure.

One of my selections goes hand-in-hand with National Poetry Month. Love That Dog: A Novel is penned by Newbery Medal Award winner Sharon Creech. Meant for readers ages 8-12, like most books for young people, to me, it is also a book for people well beyond age 12.

The inside front book cover reads, in part, “This is the story of Jack / who finds his voice / with the help of / paper / pencil / teacher / and / dog.”

Jack, the storyteller, is a student in room 105. Miss Stretchberry is his teacher. The class is exploring poetry: both writing and reading it. Here are a couple of excerpts:

“September 13

I don’t want to

Because boys

Don’t write poetry.

Girls do.

 

September 21

I tried.

Can’t do it.

Brain’s empty.”

A novel in poetic form, chronicling Jack’s struggles to overcome his “empty brain,” the story proceeds throughout the school year until the last entry dated June 6. His discoveries along the way, and eventual glee at his newfound form of expression, will invite you to laugh out loud, perhaps remind you of your own melee with poetry, and touch your heart.

Hand in hand with Jack’s poetic scuffle is the encouragement, and patient nurturing, Ms. Stretchberry offers her students. Indeed, Creech dedicates the book in part, “…to all the poets / and Mr.-and-Ms. Stretchberrys/who inspire students every day.”

An excellent read you will want to revisit again and again, Love That Dog, A Novel, was published in 2001 by Joanna Cotler Books, An Imprint of Harper Collins. Eight-eight pages.

Treat yourself.

On Waiting for an Acceptance by Cati Porter

This week I opened my email to find an acceptance for my poetry collection, “My Skies of Small Horses.” This is the moment that so many people wait for—sometimes briefly, sometimes forever. The acceptance is from a press—WordTech Editions—that I have long admired from a distance as I’ve watched other friends like Judy Kronenfeld publish with them. But the road to book publication is often a winding one, and mine is no exception.

This particular book began as my thesis for my MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. I had high hopes when I began submitting my manuscript soon after graduation. After all, I had found a publisher for my first poetry collection, “Seven Floors Up” (Mayapple Press, 2008) before I even entered the program. Now, with credentials, shouldn’t it be easier? But only after five years of trying am I finally going to see it in print.

Over those five years, I submitted my book over forty different times—sometimes to the same contest year after year, other times to presses whose aesthetics I thought matched my own, changing it slightly each time, adding and subtracting poems based on editorial comments, feedback from other writers, or just a gut sense of what works best. I tried on different titles for the book, different section titles, reordering the poems, trying to find the book’s most perfect form.

What I discovered? It’s easy to second guess your first impulse, and it’s equally easy to overlook flaws that other readers might see because you’re too close to the work. It’s taken countless critiques and rejections to get my manuscript to where it is now. And there is always the issue that good poetry is almost entirely subjective. Was it fine the first time out? Could it still be improved? Maybe, and probably!

As those five years dragged on, I kept coming back to the question, how was waiting for a publisher better than publishing it on my own? There is no one right answer. Seeing my work rejected was often painful, but publishing it too soon would have been equally so.

Waiting for a publisher, for me, meant that I spent a lot more time with the poems and made changes to the overall manuscript, that I otherwise may not have if I had gone straight to self-publishing. I could have saved time and money and had a book in print five years ago, but what I have to show for those five years, having waited, is an honorable mention, four semi-finalist nods, and one finalist—so, a little closer every time, and more time to submit work to journals, which is like vetting the poems—knowing that someone else finds value in and appreciates the work validates all the hours spent.

Self-publishing can be a viable option for those who can’t or don’t want to wait, or who, like me, have waited to no avail and have grown tired of waiting. The most important thing to consider is whether or not you have examined all of the options and revised the book to some form of finished that you feel good about.

Before the acceptance last week, I had in fact given some thought to self-publishing. There is something appealing about being able to control the overall aesthetic experience of the book, and most publishers are not willing to allow you to micromanage the process. But for me, waiting has meant that I now will have the support of an independent press whose experience outweighs my own.

As an editor and publisher as well as a writer, I’ve seen the system work from both sides, and am hopefully the wiser for it. Which is why it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to create new publishing opportunities, in order to bring more writing into the world.

In my time with Inlandia, we have expanded our imprint from books published solely through our publishing partner Heyday to adding independently published Inlandia Imprint books. I am grateful to have a great Publications Committee and volunteers who help select and prepare works for publication, and who have helped to shape the vision for publishing with Inlandia.

With the success of our first book of poetry—Vital Signs by Juan Delgado and Tom McGovern, and because of this expansion, coupled with my own love for poetry, I am beyond thrilled to announce that we are launching a poetry book competition.

The Hillary Gravendyk Prize is a poetry book competition with two winners—one drawn from a national pool and one from a regional (i.e. based in Inland Southern California). Each will have it’s own $1000 prize and book contract. Chad Sweeney, poet and faculty member at Cal State San Bernardino, will judge the inaugural contest.

The submissions window opens February 1 and will close April 30, at the end of National Poetry Month. For guidelines, please visit: http://inlandiajournal.org.

Home of the Scorpions – Notes from the Gateway to Death Valley by Ruth Nolan

The first thing I notice when I arrive at the two-room Mojave Cabin on a cold, sunny early January afternoon in tiny, remote Shoshone—a Mojave Desert town 3 hours north of the Inland Empire—is the huge scorpion mounted on the wall next to the front door…..

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It’s a wire scorpion, crafted simply, and in a flash quick as a scorpion’s sting, I know I’m where I need to be. I’m now officially the Writer in Residence for the month of January, 2015 this one café, one gas station town which proudly calls itself the Gateway to Death Valley. And, of course, the mascot of the small, K-12 Death Valley Public School, is the scorpion!

And why does this all matter? It matters greatly to me, because I’m about to write, and hopefully finish, the first draft of a book which takes place largely in the Mojave Desert. I’m here to dig in and find the quiet, space, and scenic inspiration to make major headway writing my memoir about my years fighting wildland fires for the Bureau of Land Management’s California Desert District during the late 1980’s, when I was an undergraduate at California State University, San Bernardino.

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I’ve left the comforts of life in urbanized Palm Desert far behind; land of a new Whole Foods gourmet grocery store and a huge Apple store where I can go for all of my iPhone and MacBook Air needs.

After I quickly settled in, I stepped outside to inhale the crisp air and austere sunset. The scorpion seemed to humor me, as I’ve quickly discovered that there’s neither cell phone nor internet service here. There’s no landline phone in my room, either.

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I’m on my own, with a palette of January days stretching ahead of me, waiting for a flash flood of words to spill onto the page, and hopefully while I’m here, page after page will capture the magic and hardships and transformational journeys I took across the storied Mojave landscape in my younger years, working on fire after fire in some of the remotest geographies in the world, which happen to be in the backyard of the sedate Inland Empire and Coachella Valley.

In the year 2015, it’s easy to be seduced by the easy and ubiquitous conveniences and reliance on internet technology, and it seems a little harder each year for me to climb my way back out into the remote Mojave Desert wildlands I grew up in, lived in for most of my adult life, and know so well, like the inside of my soul.

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In fact, I’d argue that the Mojave Desert is part of my soul, a part that never lets me rest, and compels me to a place like this, to slip like a Mojave Green rattlesnake out of the creatively restrictive skin that living in urban environments encases me in, so that I can write the way I really need to write. Here, I can’t spend hours watching Netflix, or checking Facebook, or scrolling through my twitter feed for the latest, repetitive headlines, or playing around on my new iPhone 6. Nope. Here, the rattlesnakes and scorpions and raw cut desert views of mountain and alluvial fan will dominate my view, and demand the attention they deserve.

In fact, I’m writing this in the old west Crowbar Café, the only place open tonight, and I’ve just helped a young, frightened tourist from Brazil, who drove from Las Vegas and got lost in Death Valley after dark on a night where temperatures are forecast to dip far below freezing, and somehow found his way here, guided by the Crowbar’s lights.

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He said he lost his way because there was no cell phone service out here, and therefore didn’t have his map app to use. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think the Mojave Desert took over his journey, and forced him to stop, and wander, and, in the end, to really learn to see, before he finds I-15 and returns to the world of built-in answers and predictabilities. He was overjoyed when I told him that as he heads to LA tonight, following the directions I drew on a napkin while sipping turkey soup, that he’ll be able to use his mobile device sometime after he passes through Baker.

As for me, I’ll  head back into the dark desert night soon, and try to find my way back to Mojave Cabin, where I’ll sit with no phone or internet, and undoubtedly stumble and struggle to evoke, with mere words, a world I once traversed so easily, the world of the burning Mojave, where I never relied on an app to save my life, and never thought I’d be mocked by a wire scorpion daring me to write about it all.

In the dark Mojave Desert night, pen and paper in hand, and I’ll wait for the magic and mystery to settle in. I’ll wait for the smoky memories to clear, and I’ll look up to the stars, and I’ll try to find my way to write.

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Story and photos by Ruth Nolan. Copyright (c) 2015 by Ruth Nolan.

For All Those Who Ask, What *is* Inlandia? by Cati Porter

Once again we are approaching that time of year when we give thanks for friends and family, take stock of what we have accomplished, and express appreciation for all those who have made it possible. So, thank you—we are all Inlandia.

A question I get asked regularly is, what is Inlandia? We have now been writing these columns for well over a year, and I don’t think we have ever addressed that directly here. Sure, you can make out who we are by the patchwork of topics covered here; what you see is what Inlandia is and does: many voices, all hailing from Inland Southern California, celebrating the region. But on the heels of what has been a banner week for Inlandia, I thought I would try to explain it in a little more detail.

The Inlandia Institute was established in 2007 as a partnership between the City of Riverside and Heyday, our co-publisher, after the publication of the anthology Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire. The idea was to found a literary and cultural center here in the Inland Empire that focused on the writers and readers of the region. Soon after, Inlandia moved into our own office, incorporating in 2009, and in 2012 Inlandia was granted non-profit status as a 501(c)(3).

Inlandia has five core programs: Children’s Creative Literacy, Adult Literary Professional Development, Publications—both with our co-publisher Heyday as well as a locally-produced independent imprint, Free Public Literary Events, and the Inlandia Literary Laureate. What does this translate to? Just this past year, Inlandia has:

– Served over 2000 children, including at-risk youth through The Women Wonder Writers program of the DA’s office, resulting in a collection of written work and a public reading and discussion; and in programs in Title 1 schools like Fremont Elementary, where we held a book discussion and gave all 200 fifth-graders and sixth-graders a free copy of Gayle Brandeis’ young adult novel, My Life with the Lincolns, thanks to a generous Rotary sponsorship.

– Served over 2400 adults through public outreach events like Celebrate Mount Rubidoux and the Mayor’s Celebration for Arts & Innovation, and by hosting free monthly author events during ArtsWalk at the Riverside Public Library, and writing workshops throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, including a Family Legacy Writing Workshop at the Goeske Senior Center.

– Published: No Easy Way, the story of the integration of Riverside schools, by Arthur L. Littleworth, a chapter integral to Riverside history; Vital Signs by Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado and Tom McGovern, which went on to win an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; and the Orangelandia anthology, which contains the fruit of Riverside’s citrus heritage. And launching this week, a new children’s chapter book, Tia’s Tamale Trouble, by Inlandia author and educator Julianna Maya Cruz.

Inlandia also undertakes special projects from time to time, like “Making Waves in Inlandia,” which chronicles the stories of the women’s environmental movement through oral histories and a very cool interactive component on our website, including a map of all the spaces saved by local environmental activists, and video interviews.

We also have two other interactive features on our website—a map that details the location of every Inland Empire site mentioned in our flagship Inlandia anthology (which, regrettably, is currently out of print—but we are working on a second edition! More about that in a future post). And, just this past week, with the publication of No Easy Way, we launched an interactive timeline, “Time Travel through Riverside’s School Integration History.”

Further, after the first of the year, we will be launching a six-part series of monthly public civic discussion forums featuring esteemed panelists and partner organizations, with the kickoff event at UCR’s Culver Center on January 31, 2015, at 1 pm.

One of the sound bites associated with Inlandia is, “celebrating the region in word, image, and sound.”

Planned projects include a new Adopt-a-School program which will bring literary arts education, taught by professionals in the field, to area schools; a Native American Voices conference at the Dorothy Ramon Center in Banning, featuring and celebrating indigenous peoples; a writing workshop at the Ontario Museum of History and Art celebrating black aviators in February, in honor of Black History Month. Not to mention our usual monthly Arts Walk series at the downtown Riverside Public Library and the free writing workshops held in six different cities throughout the region.

We are supported wholly through the generous donations of our members, supporters, and through grant funding from organizations like the City of Riverside, the Riverside Arts Council, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and Cal Humanities. But like any arts organization, we are constantly thinking of creative ways we can ensure continued funding while also making it fun for contributors. Last week, we participated in the county-wide Give BIG day of giving, and to all of those who helped us meet our goals, thank you!

We are also currently in the midst of a book fair fundraiser sponsored by Barnes & Noble. If you missed the kickoff event on Saturday November 22, which featured readings by notable locals Larry Eby, Isabel Flores, Stephanie Barbe Hammer, Julianna Cruz, and a flurry of contributors to the Orangelandia anthology, know that you can still participate through the end of the week by shopping online or in store (any Barnes & Noble anywhere, as long as you have Inlandia’s code: 11484482), through Black Friday. So if like most people at this time of year you are beginning to think about holiday gifts, give a gift to Inlandia when you shop at Barnes & Noble this Thanksgiving week.

From all of us at Inlandia, we give thanks for you this week, and every week, throughout the year.

Other Desert Mothers: Ruth Nolan at Riverside Art Museum by Lisa Henry

Tonight, Friday November 7, Salt+Spice will present author, educator, and environmental activist Ruth Nolan, who will launch her latest collection of poetry, Other Desert Mothers, at the Riverside Art Museum. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 6:30pm with the reading set to begin at 7:00pm.

Ruth Nolan knows more than a few things about the desert, and about motherhood. A native of the Inland Empire and a current resident of Palm Desert, Nolan has spent countless hours hiking, camping, writing, parenting, grandparenting and firefighting in the vast, dry landscapes of California’s deserts. Her new collection of poetry, Other Desert Mothers (Old Woman Mountains Press, 2014), is a meditation on her unique desert journey. The book will be released in November and Nolan will celebrate the publication with a reading and reception at Riverside Art Museum Friday November 7 at 6:30pm.

A long-time desert dweller, Nolan has experienced adolescence, motherhood, and now grandmotherhood in and around the Mojave Desert.

“My parents moved us to a very remote area of the Mojave Desert when I was 13, from Rialto, CA.” It was a difficult transition for Nolan. She readily admits, “I was in shock at the vast contrast between the Inland Empire and desert, but instantly smitten and blown away by the beauty and power of the desert. I’ve been pinned down by the desert, both literally and metaphorically, since then.”

As single mother and a professor of English and Creative Writing at College of the Desert, both Nolan’s personal identity and professional career have been forged in the vast and surreal landscape, which she describes as “my #1 geography.” This place is “a sort of complete dreamscape, an altered state that both inspires, elates, and intimidates me. I have only to step into the desert on a hike or start a road trip across its vast, empty roads, and I feel that sense of unbroken dreamscape again.”

Nolan has fully embraced her hometown as rich and fertile ground where she can write, study and teach. An avid desert advocate and conservationist, she lectures widely on literature of the desert, and has taught desert-based writing workshops for the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park. Among her many notable publications are No Place for a Puritan (Heyday Books/Inlandia, 2009), an impressive anthology highlighting the diverse literature of California’s deserts, Orangelandia: The Literature of Inland Citrus (Inlandia, 2014) and New California Writing, 2011 (Heyday).

“For me, the Mojave hasn’t been a wasteland; nor, even as it’s been discovered by artists more recently as a highly desirable location for a more refined, esoteric aesthetic. The Mojave Desert is a free-flowing experience of consciousness and geography. It’s a place of life, a place of people—however far apart, a place of sustenance and nurturing and enlightenment.”


Lisa Henry teaches at San Bernardino Valley College and is founder of Salt+Spice, a community-based arts organization.

Bats in the Belfry by Joan Koerper

It’s true. My first encounter with bats actually was in a belfry: the bell tower of St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church on Livernois Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. Entry to the tower was forbidden to all but a chosen few. I’d begged my father, who was the organist at the church, to be my partner on an adventure and climb the long, winding staircase of the looming, mysterious bell tower. As an avid reader of mystery stories my nine-year-old imagination ran wild with excitement. Would we find the “secret of the bell tower?” Or the “mystery of the hidden staircase?”

One Saturday in October, Dad granted my wish as part of my birthday present that year. After his long morning of playing daily mass, funerals, and weddings he drove ten miles home to West Bloomfield, fetched me, and we headed back to the church for our rendezvous with the unknown.

The tumbler clicked in the wide, heavy, sculpted, solid wooden door as Dad’s key turned in the lock. Our footfalls echoed off the stairs against the cement walls of the narrow, curving passageway. Higher and higher we ascended. My heartbeat quickened until we reached the first open space with floor to ceiling vertical slits in the exterior walls. Then, mounting even narrower, twisting steps, my heart raced as we reached the steeple and confronted the beauty of the bats, the bells, and the view. It was a dream come true, one of the thrills of my young life.

I wasn’t afraid of the bats in the belfry. My father would never put me in danger. As an educator, he educated me. I knew we wouldn’t be “attacked,” and that it was extremely rare for bats to be rabid. Instead, we were visitors in their home.

I’ve had many other encounters with bats since then: while in Detroit, as an Investigative Police Officer (detective) searching old buildings, attics, and cupolas for young missing children, and working crime scene venues. And in caves I’ve explored across the country. While living in Northern Minnesota, I was introduced to the idea of bat houses. My friends the Kargers, along with other residents, specifically built and positioned houses for bats who were especially welcomed for their role in consuming mosquitoes and other flying insects in summer. Now, living in Wrightwood, I’ve observed a number of homes also providing bat shelters.

In western society in particular, bats get a bad rap. Some say it is because bats are nocturnal, creatures of the night, and part of the “dark side” because they go into damp, dark places, make no noise, and are mysterious. Whatever the reasons, misconceptions and superstitions surround bats, especially in western society, fostering fear, and even panic. Simply put, humans too often fear what we don’t know and are all too ready to declare the unknown as “evil.” Wildly exaggerated rumors, such as the common misconception that bats are rabid, abound. Or that they are some sort of flying rodent, or closely related to rodents, when they are actually more closely related to primates than rodents.

Last week, on October 28, I was standing in the Wrightwood Branch of the San Bernardino County Library, admiring the images and figures of bats hanging from the ceiling as part of the Halloween decorations when I found the book, America’s Neighborhood Bats: Understanding and Learning to Live in Harmony with Them by Merlin D. Tuttle (University of Texas Press) on a Friends of the Library sale shelf. I snatched it up. This beautifully produced book with full color photographs, intended to educate the general public about bats, won the Conservation Education Award by the Wildlife Society. The author, Tuttle, is the founder and science director of Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas.

Once home, I read it in one sitting. Soon I realized I should have been sipping a margarita or tequila sunrise while reading.

Yep, heads up tequila drinkers! Without bats there would be no tequila! Tuttle reveals, “agave plants, from which tequila is produced, are so dependent on bats for pollination that without them, the probability of successful seed production drops to one three-thousandth of normal.”

In light of the astonishing information I learned about bats, I thought it might be fun to briefly recount a few bat facts here:

  • Bat fossils have been found that are approximately 50 million years old, and today’s bats closely resemble those ancient bats.
  • Bats are mammals: the only flying mammals at that. Bats account for one-quarter of all mammal species. Scientists have placed them in their own group, Chiroptera, which means “hand-wing.”
  • There are nearly a thousand species of bats that come in a fascinating array of appearances.
  • The Bumblebee Bat of Thailand, the world’s smallest mammal, weighs less than a penny, whereas the Flying Foxes of the old-world tropics can have six-feet wing spans.
  • Bats are not blind: many have excellent vision.
  • Bats hunt by echolocation, or emitting high-frequency sounds that bounce back to their ears. This enables them to detect minute objects in complete darkness. Their unique echolocation systems “surpass current scientific understanding and on a watt-per-watt, ounce-per-ounce basis has been estimated to be literally billions of times more efficient than any similar system developed by humans.”
  • Most bats living in temperate zones in the US and Canada mate right before entering hibernation in the fall.
  • Like humans, bats give birth to poorly developed offspring and nurse them from pectoral breasts.
  • Bats can live up to forty years producing only one offspring a year, although few survive more than thirty-four years.
  • They are clean, cuddly and sociable.
  • Seventy percent of bats eat insects, though many tropical species feed on fruit or nectar exclusively. A few are carnivorous, eating small vertebrates: fish, frogs, mice and birds. Of the nearly 1,000 species of bats, only three species are vampire bats and they live only in Latin America.
  • Insect eating bats are essential to keeping night-flying insects in check including beetles, moths and mosquitoes. For example, “the 20 million free-tailed bats from Bracken Cave in Central Texas eat more than 200 tons of insects in a single midsummer night.”
  • Pollination and seed dispersal activities of nectar and fruit eating bats are a key to the survival of the rain forests and entire ecosystems. “Bats may drop up to 95% of the seeds that produce the first ‘pioneer’ plants in a clearing.”
  • In the Pacific Islands and Asia, where the species of bats called Flying Foxes live out in the open in the tree tops, and have wingspans of three to six-feet, they are not feared. Instead they are depicted as heroes in some legends. In China they are held in high esteem as omens of good luck and happiness. And there is much more.

Exploring the secret of the bell tower provided me with my first face-to-face encounter with an even greater mystery….the stunning beauty and intelligence of bats. Through curiosity, fortuitous circumstances, and now a breathtaking book, I have been guided to new learnings. My respect for the vital role these incredibly diverse, beautiful, and gentle animals have in our ecosystem, as well as so many other facets of their physicality and nature, has multiplied and deepened.

It is no coincidence, really, that for most of us bats come to mind at this time of year. The trilogy of All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day have their origins in the ancient Irish and Druid traditional seasonal quarters. October 31 concludes the quarter season of Lughnasadh, Autumn, which is the time of harvest, maturity, physical, and spiritual garnering. Samhain, Winter quarter, runs from November 1 to January 31 and, with the cold weather closing in, it brings the gifts of restoration and renewal. It is a time to celebrate wise elders, and all those whose actions and sacrifices have brought new life.

Considering that bats have been around for fifty million years, live similar life spans as our human ancestors, and that we are all made from the same stardust, it is time for me, and hopefully other humans, to honor and celebrate bats as wise elders whose actions and sacrifices continually bring new life to our earth.

Darkness converges on the final night of this year’s sacred trilogy: All Souls’ Day. The light of the ascending moon glistens on ice covering the watering holes in my front yard where birds bathed and languished just a few days ago. I light the wood stove, a stick of sandalwood incense, and raise my tequila sunrise, or in this case tequila sunset, with a nod, and smile in deep gratitude and admiration: praise to the bats of the past, present, and future. May you continue to thrive, nurturing Mother Earth and her propitious inhabitants.


Notes: All quotes in this piece are directly from Tuttle’s book. Tuttle’s book also has chapters addressing: resolving misconceptions, dealing with unexpected visitors, evicting unwelcome tenants, living in harmony, and getting to know your neighbors. It contains A Beginner’s Key to American Bats as well as Suggested Reading.

I found Tuttle’s book, and the following article in Popular Science, highly readable and transforming.

America’s Neighborhood Bats: Understanding and Learning to Live in Harmony with Them Revised edition by Merlin D. Tuttle. University of Texas Press. 1998. ISBN: 0-292-78148-2

“This Halloween, Celebrate The Beautiful Bat” Popular Science. Source: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-10/why-you-should-care-about-bats-beyond-just-halloween

Events this weekend featuring Juan Delgado, Carlos Cortes, and Dia de los Muertos! by Craig Svonkin

First, this year’s Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) Conference will be bookended by sessions featuring Inland Empire creative writers. Taking place downtown at the Riverside Convention Center, three events will feature Inlandia authors:

Friday, October 31, 3:45 pm – 5:15 pm Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado will be presiding over a session of Inlandia poets titled “Creative Writing: Poetic Voices of Inlandia.” This will immediately be followed at 5:15 pm until 6:40 pm by a Creative Artist Spotlight Address by Delgado and Tom McGovern, co-authors of Vital Signs, a collection of poetry and photography about the Inland Empire, with book sales and signing until 7:00 pm.

Then, Sunday, November 2, from 10:45 am – 12:00 pm PAMLA will be offering a seminar, “Inlandia Institute: Celebrating and Memorializing Literary Inlandia,” hosted by Cati Porter and featuring Inlandia authors Laurel and Carlos Cortes (Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time). We will be discussing the value of ‘place’ in writing, and reading and talking about Inlandia.

These PAMLA sessions are open to the public, and all sessions are free to current UCR, RCC, CSUSB, Chaffey, La Sierra, and Cal Baptist students and faculty. For more information, please contact svonkin@netzero.net or visit the website for the full conference schedule: http://www.pamla.org/2014.

Also on Sunday, from 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm, please join us for an Open Mic with Juan Delgado at the Dia de los Muertos Festival at White Park, in the Gazebo, in honor of a loved one who’s passed. Read a poem (your own or another favorite) then place the poem on a joint altar. Attendance is free for the living and the dead.

Then, next Thursday November 6, at 7:00 pm please join us at the Riverside Public Library downtown, upstairs in the main auditorium, ArtsWalk for a reading and discussion with Tyler Stallings and his new book, Aridtopia.

Stay tuned – lots going on in November! More info coming soon.

****

UPDATE: Addendum from the PAMLA Conference with complete details:

The Creative Artist Spotlight Address: Vital Signs with Juan Delgado and Thomas McGovern, will be on Friday, October 31, from 5:15 pm – 6:40 pm (in RCC Exhibit Hall C). Inlandia Literary Laureate, poet Juan Delgado, and award-winning photographer Thomas McGovern (both professors from California State University, San Bernardino), will speak about their collaboration on the beautiful and moving photography/poetry book, Vital Signs, about the Inland Empire region of Southern California, starting with the city of San Bernardino. The Before Columbus Foundation has selected Vital Signs as one of the recipients of the 2014 American Book Awards. Please join us for this special (and free to everyone) event. The Halloween Cash Bar (and Candy Feast) Reception will follow, with good conversation, light snacks, a cash bar, and a Halloween-themed film, all out doors (weather permitting). Feel free to wear a Halloween costume, if you’d like.

Riverside is an interesting place with an interesting history. If you’d like to learn more about the history and architecture of Riverside while getting to stretch your legs and get out of the Riverside Convention Center, please join one of the two Walking Tours of Historic Riverside conducted by Steve Lech, Riverside expert and President of the Riverside Historical Society. These tours (please wear comfortable shoes and be ready for a brisk pace) will leave the Riverside Convention Center on Friday at 2:00 pm and Saturday at 1:45 pm from the Lower Concourse (near the Registration table), and each tour will take 90 minutes.

Another opportunity to learn about Riverside and its culture and history, in connection to a variety of cultural, architectural and historical issues central to California and the West, will be the two back-to-back sessions about the Mission Inn, Riverside’s most famous architectural landmark (built in an eclectic “Mission Revival” style, and a fascinating place to explore (do be sure to visit the Mission Inn during the conference, even if you aren’t staying there). These sessions are titled “The Spirit of California Imprisoned: Summoning the Mission Inn,” and will be held on Friday, October 31, from 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm and then from 3:45 pm – 5:15 pm, in RCC Ballroom B.

As you are planning your PAMLA conference schedule, please take a look at some of our Creative Writing sessions and pencil one, two, or all of them into your conference schedule (of course, all of our scholarly writing is creative writing, but you know what we mean):

For example, on Friday, October 31, you could attend:

10:45 am–“Creative Writing: Poetry that May (or May Not) Change Your Life”

2:00 pm–“Creative Writing: Brief Poetry”

3:45 pm–“Creative Writing: Poetic Voices of Inlandia”

And then join us for the Creative Artist Spotlight Address, with local poet Juan Delgado and photographer Thomas McGovern, co-authors of Vital Signs, at 5:15 pm.

On Saturday, November 1, please join us for:

“Four SoCal Writers: Eric, Ara, Joseph, & Joseph” at 10:30 am.

“The Little Short Shorts: Narrative as Commentary,” at 3:30 pm, with songs and short creative fragments, including creative writing by me, PAMLA’s Executive Director, Craig Svonkin.

And then on Sunday, November 2, we will have a special session beginning at 10:45 am, co-sponsored by the Inlandia Institute, focusing on local writers featuring Carlos & Laurel Cortes, and Cati Porter.

The full conference program is up online: http://www.pamla.org/2014/schedule.

Cinema Culturas Film Fest – Stories Matter by Frances J. Vasquez

I cut my front teeth watching Mexican cinema at “el Teatro Azteca” on Mt. Vernon Avenue in San Bernardino. As the eldest daughter, it was my good fortune to accompany my mother to the cinema on occasional Sundays. I have fantastic memories of lively musicals, comedies, and intense dramas depicted on the silver screen. Pedro Infante, Mexico’s Clark Gable, was my movie idol. He was handsome and lovable.

He sang popular Mexican tunes like no other: rancheras, boleros, corridos. His characters, his songs spoke to me. Pedro could do no wrong – even when he notoriously portrayed a boracho, or drunkard on screen.

The power of cinema to portray and teach social commentary is boundless. I learned about the injustice of racism at el Azteca. Pedro, the protagonist in the Mexican film, “Angelitos Negros” (little Black angels) helped instill my values about racial diversity. The film title and melancholy theme song were inspired by “Píntame Angelitos Negros,” Andrés Eloy Blanco’s moving poem written in 1946 about the lack of Black angels depicted in church artworks.

The riveting story mattered. It was persuasive. Pedro’s film character taught me the meaning of true love and racial tolerance. I despised his blonde, racist filmic wife for rejecting her own baby because she was a “negrita.” The story moved me at many levels. How terrible! Poor baby. Bad mother. Good father – Pedro loved his daughter unconditionally. By the age of five, before I learned to read, I was forever hooked on Mexican cinema.

I came of age during Mexico’s Golden era of cinema. Stories were the main attraction – compelling storytelling that made us think and reflect on the dramatic plots. We laughed to comic relief in Mexican comedies. Sooner or later, Mexico’s best films made it to el Azteca where captivated audiences viewed the artistry of legendary cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. We were exposed to the gripping writing of Joselito Rodríguez, who scripted the “Angelitos Negros” movie loosely based on Fannie Hurst’s novel, “Imitation of Life.”

A renaissance of superb Latino film offerings is emerging in our region. Cinema Culturas proudly presents the first Latino film festival to the Inland Empire on October 17 – 19, 2014. The festival theme is “Todas las historias cuentan / All Stories Matter.”

The festival will open on Friday, October 17 at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside. It will feature a screening of the acclaimed film “La Jaula de Oro,” which swept the Mexican Ariel Awards, winning in several categories, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay. Although the English title is “The Golden Dream,” the title translates literally to “the cage of gold,” a reflection of the expectations and realities of those who brave the journey north to the US. The film director, Diego Quemada-Diez will be on hand for a discussion and answer questions from the audience.

Before Friday’s feature film, the Symphonie Jeunesse from San Bernardino will perform live accompaniment to a film montage highlighting the history and “Golden era” of cinema in Mexico. Compelling storytelling was the core aesthetic to their cinematic greatness.

My grandmother’s home in rural Mexico featured a huge console radio. No television. In the evenings, storytelling was our family’s favored entertainment. During one of our trips when I was ten years old, the first film story my mother asked me to recount was “Angelitos Negros.” It was a chilly evening, and family members were all gathered together around a wood-burning fire circle. I told the story and everyone engaged in dialogue to discuss the implications, the consequences, and the moral of the story. To be sure, the oral tradition of storytelling was an important part of our family culture. It inspired me to become an avid reader of books. Stories matter. They have the wonderful power to transport us to another time, another place.

Film aficionados have a unique opportunity to view superb, new, award-winning feature films, documentaries, and animated short films in Spanish (with English subtitles) and English. We can view them here in the Inland Empire. Our spirits will surely be uplifted by the stimulating stories depicted and the participatory dialogue with the film makers.

Screenings on Saturday, October 18 will be at the AMC Theaters at the Galleria in Riverside. They will showcase an outstanding selection of feature films, documentaries, and workshops with film makers. Included are films about the contributions of founding Hispanic families of Southern California.

The Sunday, October 19 program at Riverside City College features a FREE family day dedicated to acclaimed Spanish-language animated short films, community workshops, and outstanding selections from this year’s student film competition.

FACTBOX: CINEMA CULTURAS

What: Riverside’s Latino Film Festival

When: October 17 – 19

Where: Fox Performing Arts Center and AMC Theaters, Riverside

Admission: Tickets for opening night are $20, general admission; $25, preferred seating. All films on Saturday are $10, adult admission; $8, students and seniors. Free admission on Sunday.

Information and ticket pricing: www.cinemaculturas.com.


Frances J. Vasquez is native to the Inland region. She has an extensive career in education and public service. Her short stories have been published by MUSE Journal, Inlandia Anthology, and Orangelandia. She serves on the board of the Inlandia Institute.