Saturday, July 28, 2012

Read, Mis Amigos, Read

It's been years since I have read one of Castaneda's books and I picked this up a few weeks ago, one I had never really read, and began. It didn't take me long to get "hooked" again as I first was when I picked up "The Teachings of Don Juan, A Yaqui Way of Knowlege", sometime in the early 70's.

Like so many at the time, I was completely and forever blown away by the stories of magic and the possiblity of other worlds, other existences, other ways of seeing the world, "a separate reality" as Carlos often puts it.

But in this one I miss the appearance of the Brujos (sorcerers) Don Juan, and his magical sidekick, Genaro. I'm not sure how many books there are in total, but some eight or nine? All telling of the amazing encounters Carlos had with the other world, in the deserts of central Mexico. He was a graduate student doing his thesis on the use of medicinal herbs among the Yaqui Indians of the Southwest, and in a Greyhound bus depot he meets an old Yaqui man he called "Don Juan", asking him if he might know someone who can tell him about medicinal plants. Don Juan says no, but he himself has "a little knowledge"
of their use, the qunitessential understatement of modern times!

The books are somewhat chronological, and I suggest reading them in order if possible, because they document Carlos first encounters with the magical world of sorcerers, his initiation into to it, and his clumsy and frightening journey to becoming what Don Juan and Genaro call a "man of knowledge." The power and beauty of their "teachings" compares to any of the ideas of the modern Western world of philosophy and psychology.

By the time this book is written, Carlos finally realizes that he was not alone in his intitiation, but part of a group of apprentices, 4 women and 3 men, although he had met them before briefly. What a movie this would make, putting modern psychological thrillers to shame! Carlos is a master at detailing the supreme fears and terrors he experiences, his stupidity and his debililitating clinging to his reason in the face of the inexplicable.

Anyway, I am glad to be reading again. I was an avid reader in my youth and years have passed since I have picked a book, and actually read it, so it feels good, a sense of accomplishment. I also just finished reading "Letters to a Young Poet", by Rainer Maria Rilke, a book I had been introduced to by my college philosophy instructor. Rilke's message seems simple: Find courage in your solitude, embrace it because from it you grow stronger.

It is tragic that today there seems to be fewer and fewer readers. I had to labor ceaselessly to get my students to read an essay or even a short story! And I was dismayed when they would confess, with a measure of glee, "This is the first book I have read in my whole life", or "This is the first book I read all the way through, "Mr. Rivers."

I hope this reawakening to the pleasures of reading in me, is not a passing fancy but hangs around for a while longer.

Friday, July 6, 2012

My New Book

Me an my dog, Skippy CA.1934

Pictured here is my grinning dog, Skippy and I when I was about 5 in the front yard of my home in a small barrio in Modesto, California. It will be used on the cover of my new book, "Songs From The Barrio: A Coming of Age in Modesto, CA."

The book will be composed of stories and poems that document my experiences growing up during the 40's, 50's and 60's, in "Juarez", as we jokingly called our barrio in South Modesto, a one-city-square block of a dozen or so, houses of Mexican immigrant familys

The people who lived there were all Mexican immigrants, poor and uneducated, who left Mexico in the 1920's after its devastating Mexican Revolution (1910-20), and came here legally and illegally to better their lives and those of their children.

But they brought with them a vibrant language and culture and they kept it alive the best they could in competition with the powerful pull of Americanization. Slowly, their kids assimilated, forgot most of their culture and moved to the Northside,or out of town in search of jobs and the American Dream.

We grew up poor though the old timers felt rich, when compared to what little they left behind in Mexico. Our barrio's streets were unpaved, unlit and unmarked but we played in them nonetheless. Everyone knew everyone by name, being related or comadres or compadres of one another, having baptized one anothers kids. The houses were divided by wire fences and they could see and gossip with neighbors on both sides, in contrast to the 6' tall wooden fences we use today, sheltering our lives from those of our neighbor's.

We underwent our own form of discrimination covert, and often overt, to the point that some of us were ashamed to call ourselves "Mexican", preferring the title "Spanish" instead. College never entered our vocabulary. Most of us quit school, got a job, had kids, and a handful graduated from high school.

It was another time and another world then and I felt the need to document it now, before it's completely gone, for my kids, my grandkids and my family and for any reader hungry to learn how America became the Melting Pot that it is, though some of us refused to melt, completely. The barrio needs to be assigned its rightful place in the history of California and the United States. Not only that, but I'm an old fart now, and time is passing. I can't screw around. It's now or never.

While I have been writing since the mid-1960's, I have toyed with the idea of some time publishing a book. Many of the book's stories were already written, but as I began to edit and organize them into the idea of a book, I saw holes and gaps and set out to write those stories.

Keep tuned in and I will try to update you on the book's progress. I will be uploading the manuscript to the publisher in a few weeks, I hope. Wish me luck and I hope you'll buy a book when its ready. You owe it to me for all the hard work.