Monday, November 28, 2011

The other day my younger son, and his wife came by with photos and a CD of a recent sonogram of their baby to be born in April 2012. They were, without saying, ecstatic about showing it to my wife and I, so we slipped it into the Blu-Ray disc player, and pushed "play".

Then, we all oooed and aaawed for about 10 minutes watching this mini-human, a boy, kick and squirm, roll and punch inside the womb. "Look, there's the head!" "Look, look, the penis! All in High Definition.

We marveled at the little hands and counted the tiny toes. Yup, there's five, one-two-three.... There was the little face, eyes closed, the heart beating like tiny drum, the umbilical chord. As he tumbled and kicked I said "He's gonna be a Futbol player!" And they all cracked up.

As we watched, I marveled at our new technology and how in the old days we never knew the gender of our babies until they slid out on the delivery table!

In fact, when my wife was pregnant with our youngest (we have two boys), our oldest son was already three years old and my wife, who had mysteriously forgotten about all the problems she had with that labor, crooned "Oh let's have another baby, a little sister so he can have somebody to play with??" She talked me into it. In fact, I had to be talked into the first one too!

It just so happened at the time I was reading a book about the power of the mind concerning how if you concentrated on the preferred gender of a fetus, you could kind of "will" it to be a boy or a girl. It had to be a constant and willed power of thought, each hour of every day, speaking to it, singing to it, and even calling it by his/her name, so we named our unborn baby "Christina", painted her room pink, and my wife knitted little sweaters, caps and blankets, all in pink, of course.

Well, it didn't work! And a bouncing baby BOY was born! We were shattered! We didn't even have a name for him! So much for the power of positive thought.

And now, as we watched the 42" flat screen in our bedroom, we all "knew". It will be a boy. No surprises. No amazement. No wondering. No mystery. No waiting. There was no mistake; there was the penis.

But as we watched I could stop myself from wondering about how we would feel if we saw the baby had no hands, no feet, or only two fingers on one hand? After all, we had asked to "see"?. We had asked to "know"?. Could this be why we all count the toes?

I those ten minutes I also could not stop from thinking about abortion, and about the debate concerning when "life" begins and at what point is a fetus in actually human. As long as we don't see the baby moving inside the womb, the heart beating, and count the five fingers on a tiny hand already, we can justify abortion.

But the sonogram should put all that to rest: We rest our case. There, in plain view is the penis.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Be Careful What You Ask For Because You Just Might Get It.

With all the OCCUPY THIS AND THAT stuff going on in the U.S. today, the obstinate refusal of participants to specify exactly who or what is being protested other than big government, banks and Wall St. is a little frightening.

Why are we so disenchanted with the so called 1%? What has happened to us is simply of product of our incestuous love with CAPITIALISM. We love it. We cherish it. We teach it. We worship it to the condemnation of every other system, especially Socialism.

Ironically, one the best example of successful Socialism might have been the early CHRISTIANS, who according to the Acts of The Apostles were prompted to put all of their possessions into a pile, to then be levied out according to those most in need. Whether it worked or lasted might well have depended on the morality and fairness of those deciding who the most needy were. One for you, 19 for me?

Seems to me that any system on its face, is amoral and can only become moral, if its proponents are moral. Any moral system can be corrupted by immoral servants of that system. Conversely, do you suppose an inherently immoral system might actually become moral if moral individuals administer it?

So, if we succeed in bringing it all down, Wall St., the Banks, the giant corporations with nothing carefully thought out to replace it with, were are traveling headlong into ANARCHY, a most frightening and disastrous prospect.

I would caution the well-intentioned and those who just like the idea of protesting as adventurous, to occupy their mind with looking up the word ANARCHY, and study a little about those societies and nations of the past who succeeded in bringing it upon themselves.

And even Anarchy could work, but it would depend on moral and responsible adherents, which at present Americans seem to be woefully short on, especially the younger generation.

Dios Mio, we just might get what we ask for.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pearls Before Swine: On The Importance of Being a Good Audience

A heard a story years back about the Irish writer, poet and playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) that supposedly occurred one night during the opening of his play "The Importance of Being Earnest" (1895). A little old lady sauntered backstage and addressed Oscar saying "Mr. Wilde, I sure hope your play is a success." Without hesitating, the playwright quipped "Mam, what I hope is that the audience is a success!"

My life as a visual artist, took a strange detour during the 1980's into the world of drama. I guess it all began in High School when I wrote and performed a little 10 minute farce I called "Bad Day at Black Rock", a spoof on bad Hollywood westerns of the 50's, during the school's annual crazy week, called The Insanities.

I had never been on stage before and was terrified of standing before a live audience. Nonetheless, with my buddy, David Hitt, we pulled it off, complete with laughs and a healthy applause. Our audience of peers had been forgiving!

Sometime during the 1980's, I began directing the Chicano Teatro (Theater) class at our local community college, part of our Chicano Studies curriculum. I took it over from two earlier instructors. Though I had no real knowledge of drama or theater, other than working with them on the wings for a coupe of years, I winged it for the first years by relying on short one-act plays of Chicano playwright, Luis Valdez, and El Teatro Campesino. In time, I would write and  produce many original one-act plays, skits and  2-3 full-length plays as I became a more competent director. I loved playing cameo roles in many.

I concentrated on a mobile, street theater style, like that of the Teatro Campesino who started by perfoming in the orchards on the beds of pickups, often using the workers themselves as actors, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe, who I had seen perform at our college. In order, were basic and simple props, homemade costumes, with quick scene changes with meager sets. For theme and subject matter I chose family, culture, the Barrio, the farm worker, education.

Much of my spiel to the student-actors, (the majority had never been on stage before) had to do with the "audience" and how it was our job to entertain them, to make them laugh, to make them cry and that if we if we failed, the fault was ours.

There were good and bad audiences as we took theater to their turf: Jails, prisons, schools, churches. We had to work extra hard to demand attention from a cafeteria full of 7th or 8th graders! Try it sometime. "Now, students. Students! Students!! Students!!! STUDENTS!!!! If you don't quiet down we are all going back to the classroom!" The principals would cry. "I have never seen our students pay attention to any program like they did today", was the ultimate compliment.

The students hated rehearsals where I drilled them on their lines, movement, facial expression, diction, enunciation, delivery and concentration. But their biggest obstacle was being on time. "I can't do it Mr. Rios. I just can't do it!" They whimpered and complained after being told over and over: "One more time, but this time I want you to mean what you say."

Perhaps the most disheartening and scary of all was to play for half empty houses, whether for a roomful of 50 or 100. Empty chairs hurt. I counted each one. On the other hand, a full-house, noisy and anxious just before the opening lines, primed us. Backstage, I divided my attention between casting a critical eye on my actors and watching the faces of our audience. Did they cry, laugh when they were supposed to? Did they laugh in the middle of a serious moment?

I heard that audiences of Greek Tragedies in ancient Greece were not adverse to watching the same plays over and over. Thus, they knew the story, the plot, the climax and in the middle of some especially dramatic scene with the villain sneaking up behind the hero with a dagger, might shout out to the protagonist onstage "Look out! He is standing right behind you!!" My mother, watching her soap operas on TV, would become so engaged in the story that she constantly booed the villains and cheered on the heroes.

"Andale, malidito!, Aprovechado! Te lo merecias!!" She might cry out to a villian getting his just dues. "Pobrecita", she would woo to the poor undeserving heroine whose life was being torn apart by opportunistic men. This is what audience is about! Gut laughter. Tears. Anger. Sympathy. Empathy. Catharsis.

Suspension of Disbelief, it is called. When the audience allows itself to be transported by the story to a place far removed from reality, their own daily stuggles and problems and become engaged in the imaginary world of Literature. It was beautiful to see, especially in a non-traditional audience of people who never went to plays, who had never seen live actors on a stage, especially children.

The clapping and whistling at the end of a show, even during the show (sometimes), a standing ovation even from half the audience, these two minutes of appreciation made the hours, days and months of preparation worth it. What a joy it was to see the look of satisfaction, pride, self-worth on the student-actors' faces, as they bathed in the glory of this fleeting moment in time.

But no matter how good we were on stage, a bad audience was a nightmare. People bored. Talking. Jeering. Not laughing. Not reacting. A 15 minute skit turned into a tedious and seemingly endless chore and all you prayed for was for it to end so that you could get off that stage! We never got tomatoes thrown at us but an unappreciative audiences were just as bad.

The is no art without an audience who knows how to appreciate it. The artist who says "I just create my work for myself", is lying. If all I do in create art for myself, what point is there in creating it? I don't know about you but I never turn down a compliment, especially when it is genuine.

A woman once told me after I read one of my poems, "Oh, Mr. Rios I loved your poem so much, it almost made me cry!" "Almost? I guess I must have failed then, because I cried when I read it." I told her.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dia de Muertos 2011

This is a simple altar I created for Day of The Dead, 2011 in our home. It honors my mother-in-law, Maria Luevano (top), and father-in-law Jose Anguiano from Mexico (far left), my mother and grandmother (lower center).

The artificial fruits represent the various foods they enyoyed in life, the "molcajete" (grinding stone) in the center was actually used by my mother to make salsa in.

This was one strong, hard-working generation who survived poverty, the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), and in the case of my mother, survived transplantion into a new country and alien culture when she emigrated as a young girl into the U.S. in the early 1920's.

My mother's story alone, deserves a book. Married at 15, had her first child at 16. Endured an abusive marraiage until she declared her emancipation and took on the raising of 6 of us as a single mother working in the cannery.

May they all be granted eternal rest, well deserved.