The Under Ground Writing Project

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Guarding the Stories

Posted by Jenny Maloney on November 5, 2012 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (2)


from left: The Honorable Theresa Cisneros, Debra Gallegos,

Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, and Juliana Aragon Fatula

A couple weeks ago, I attended a beautiful event put on by the Pikes Peak Library District called Latina Voices. There were poetry and prose readings by my friend Juliana Aragon Fatula and Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, theatrical and singing performances by Debra Gallegos, and a keynote speech delivered by the first Latina Judge in Colorado: the Honorable Theresa Cisneros.


There was one piece that particularly stuck out for me and it influenced the rest of the presentations considerably. At one point Andrea O'Reilly Herrera was discussing how she'd interviewed her family for her book - and why she'd done it in the first place.


She wrote her book because she believed every generation has to have at least one person who will guard the stories. If there is no one to interview, no one to record, no one to do the hard work of presenting the stories, then all those experiences just kind of fade away. If you don't protect and present your own stories, what happens to them? They die.


This presentation struck a chord with me because my grandmother passed away earlier this year. She was my last grandparent. Her husband had died before I could meet him, and my father's parents were distant long before they left.


Years ago, I gave my grandmother a book called The Story of a Lifetime. It's a neat book with a lot of questions about how a person grew up, what they loved, what they hated. Basically, it asks all the questions you would want a grandmother to answer - just so you can have a little piece of her.


After she died, I got the book back. The only section she answered was the part about her early life.


Here's my favorite bit:

Q: What were the attitudes among teenagers about sex, smoking, drugs, and alcohol?

A: We tried everything there was to try. Thank God there were no drugs in our day. I guess we would have tried them too. We had very little money so there were only special occasions when we had alcohol. Cigarettes were cheap and sex cost nothing.


While this early-life section is amazing and Grandma was incredibly frank (as you can see) I couldn't help but feel sad at the sections that are gone. Sure, there are her old friends who are still around who can tell you how she met her husband and how she felt about her children. Yes, her children are around to tell about how she parented. Her grandchildren are around to tell you about useful Christmas gifts: socks, flashlights, and purse hangers.


But I don't know about how she met her husband. I don't know how she felt when her mother died. I don't get to know what she would've thought about my stories. There is this huge, yawning gap.


Still. I will always have "Sex is free."


I think the best way to guard stories is to tell them.


As I was listening to the Latina Voices presenters, I kept thinking that here are the stories. All four of these women were presenting their lives through different mediums. Juliana through poetry - which tells a story in and of itself. Andrea through her family histories. Debra through monologue and song. And Theresa Cisneros, a judge who claims no kinship with creativity, told the true-life story of her alcoholic, abusive father - who raised five kids on his own and no one got left behind.


Through their stories I got to know them and so many other people: Juliana's son, Andrea's great-aunt and uncles and a lot of Cuba, Debra introduced me to friends and coworkers, and Theresa gave me her father and siblings.


So, if you're a storyteller - get to telling, friend.

Margaret Atwood: Better than Cold Duck Pieces

Posted by Jenny Maloney on September 17, 2012 at 7:15 AM Comments comments (5)

In Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood said: "There's an epigram tacked to my office bulletin board, pinched from a magazine -- 'Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté.'"


Well, since I got to meet (or, rather, see up-close) Margaret Atwood her-very-own-self this past Friday...all I can say is: "Mmmm, pâté."


She was brilliant. And much more eloquent than pâté.


Atwood was asked to come and speak as part of the All Pikes Peak Reads Program hosted by the Pikes Peak Library District. She participated in a pre-speech reception that included foods inspired by her book Year of the Flood...and let me tell you, that struck me as a risky business. (Hadn't these people read the books? Spa food leftover for five years? Canned food meant you were lucky.) But it turned out safe enough. Then she gave a talk at Shove Chapel on Colorado College's beautiful campus. And finally she signed books.


Mostly what I took away from this experience was that I will never, not if I researched, studied, and wrote for a thousand years, be as smart as this woman is.  She has a lovely, refreshing, logical way of looking at the world.


One of the most enjoyable parts of her discussion, for me was when she was talking about her research - especially since John just talked about research overload on Friday. She has file folders full. And judging by the amount of information she presented during her speech I would be willing to bet there's some kind of photographic memory associated with that.


Apparently she does not suffer from Research Overload.


I also took away that a sense of humor goes a loooooong way. She was so charming. Her smile lit up the big chapel space. I'm sure the people in the waaay back could see it, even without the huge presentation screen. She spun tall tales of Roman adventures in Manitou Springs, how she named her characters via Name Your Baby books (don't we all?), and took a couple well-aimed cuts at 'legitimate rape' politicos.


Her passion for the enviornment came out beautifully - though we only got details on saving the oceans. I'm sure if we started discussing the land and air we would still be listening. That wouldn't be a chore, however.  I think I could listen to her talk forever. But I'm sure even Margaret Atwood has to sleep....


And pictures!:


Margaret Atwood!

 Jenny Maloney, Shane Preston, Margaret Atwood (!), and Deb Meldrum

Margaret Atwood (!) with John Ridge

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