Friday, October 4, 2013

Coffee Cups, Broken Hearts, John Lennon, & Thee: Recent Books by AVC Grads




Former Students Show the English Department How It's Done

In the self-help and good-advice department, society provides us with hundreds of handy aphorisms. There are the slightly old-fashioned ones ("a rolling stone gathers no moss"), ones made famous by movies ("life is a box of chocolates"), agrarian ones that make little sense these days ("never look a gift horse in the mouth"), and ones that despite their too-frequent-use, still have great wisdom, such as "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."


The horse thing makes sense if we just remember a bit of equine physiology. In this shot, author and former AVC instructor Joan Fry teaches me about horse anatomy. If buying a horse whose age is not known to you, you can see of the owner is fibbing about the animal's condition by checking the teeth. As gums recede, the older the horse, the more of the tooth surface will be exposed. So this expression means, if somebody is giving you a present, don't be ungrateful. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" is another way of saying, don't complain or be too critical. ("No, Uncle Bob, you can't give me this Ferrari, it has a scratch on the bumper.") The original expression comes to us from Ephesians.

Journeys and steps makes sense too, of course, but risks losing potency from overuse. Just because it's on t-shirts and inspirational posters doesn't mean it's not still true. Originally it was a Chinese expression and is now heading towards being three thousand years old; according to the online resource "Wiktionary," a more literal translation would be to say "a thousand miles to be traveled, start with foot (placed) down."


Two writers I admire very much have been placing their feet down in sustained and productive ways recently. Both passed through AVC for their AA degrees before going on to other schools, other lives. Both will be appearing in a week to talk about their books, and this blog wants to praise their work but also invite the Antelope Valley community to meet these authors and be inspired by their stories and their successes.


Tre Miller went to Berkeley from AVC, and from there, ended up in New York City, doing work related to publicity and media relations. She fell in love with an amazing man --- having met him, I can verify that he was indeed her soul mate, and just a truly remarkable fellow --- and they married, began a life that many would envy. Yet Alberto Rodgriguez died young --- much too young --- and died in front her, of a heart attack, barely starting his 40s. Her book about a journey into the deepest possible grief is also a book that demonstrates what a beautiful and surprising world we live in. Forgive me for saying so, but the expression "God works in mysterious ways" fits what happens next. Tre had given up a daughter for adoption when she was in high school, and after Alberto's death, it happened that her daughter (now in high school herself) came back into her life. It nearly seems like a made-for-tv movie, except this one is true, and rather than being sentimental, this is a story told with wit, passion, and pitch-perfect pacing. The book is called Splitting the Difference: A Heart-Shaped Memoir.

On Saturday October 12, 2013, myself and others from the AVC Language Arts Division will host a book launch and reading and celebration and all-around "job well done old gal" party for Tre and this book at Butler's Coffee in Palmdale. I hope you already know this indy haven of music, books, and good food, but if not, perhaps our book launch party will give you a chance to find out about it.


Butler's is across from the Wal-Mart complex on 10th Street West, a bit up from the mall (on the AVC side of the Valley), closest to where Ave O-4 crosses 10th at a light. From the mall, cross under the freeway and Butler's will be on the left.


It provides good coffee, comfortable chairs, and free wi-fi --- which is to say, if you have a writing project and own (or can borrow) a laptop, this is a fun place to spend the afternoon. Often there is music playing or else classic black and white movies, and for kids, there is a game corner. My wife Abbey spent a lot of her undergrad time here, studying for her English BA at CSU Bakersfield. Now a grad student, she still loves to come here to write.



Butler's also hosts a "Literary Jam Thang," which gives local writers a monthly place to share work and support one another. Nothing against Starbucks, but it is places like Butler's that allow communities to become just that, "communities."


AVC faculty get to read here too. Our second featured author on the book launch weekend, Nicelle Davis, is a former student who went on to CSU Bakersfield and then to UC Riverside, and now has come home to AVC as an instructor. She has read at Butler's before. Here she is, "in action."


Anybody who thinks poetry is boring, that is smells like your auntie's perfume, or that is can't be as wild and dangerous as a downed power line has not met Nicelle Davis.

The Communication Studies professor Tina McDermott has performed at Butler's, and other AVC teachers too. Tina is now the main faculty coordinator for the accreditation process, and soon will help host a visiting accreditation team, come to check up on AVC and make sure we're doing things fair and square. Note from Hood to Tina: let's charm the visitors so they give us especially high marks. I recommend you sing a few songs for them.



Nicelle's new book that she will be reading from and signing on October 12th has the surprising and challenging title of Becoming Judas. Just released now by L.A.'s fabulous Red Hen Press, it's a risky book, one that takes your breath away but leaves a few readers a bit perplexed. Among other things, it explores some of her own confusion as a child when popular culture figures (John Lennon, because her dad ran a record store) became intermingled with religious fervor. Was John Lennon an incarnation of Jesus? For some, indeed he was, hence his final martyrdom. Nicelle's grandparents died of asphyxiation due to a faulty furnace and yet in the end, saw angels and had other powerful visions. Nicelle inhabits these layers of transposition and reality fearlessly. It is an unexpected book, and it is also a book that if you come to it with an open heart and are willing to let its music speak to you on its own terms, will show you just how powerful language and imagination can be. Kate Coles runs the PhD program in writing at the University of Utah, and she says of this book that it is "a gorgeous, fast-moving, exhilarating collection from an extraordinarily talented young poet."

Too many people come to me and say that they have an idea for a book, they just need "x." That "x" varies from person to person but serves the place of an excuse in all cases. Some say that the have an idea for a good book but that they just need somebody to write it down for them, and that's of course poppycock: you're not a writer if you need somebody to write your book for you. Others think that the story is too jumbled in their minds; they can't write it down because their own thoughts are not clear yet. To use yet another classic expression: if you want to know what you think, then write it down. Clarity comes from wrestling with the text in the act of creation. After all, no books are ever clear to their authors beforehand; all writing is a process of discovery, perhaps even a process of anguish and misery. It seems to me that is easier to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in a snowstorm while carrying an extra load of bricks than it is to write a good, important, ambitious book.

Others think they can't tell their story because they're not important enough. Those people just need to be encouraged to trust their hearts, trust their stories, and it is for them that I celebrate such authors as Tre Miller Rodgriguez and Nicelle Davis. You can talk to both of them about what they have had to go through to get from their private lives and private pain, to the first drafts of the manuscripts, and on now to final form. Just as one example, Nicelle has been poor (very poor); she has been and still is a single mom; she has had all the some troubles and frustrations and setbacks as anybody else in our Valley. Yet she overcame those obstacles and wrote not one book, but four. (This is her second book; her first, Circe, is very much worth knowing too, and she has two more coming out in the next two years.) My only complaint about Nicelle is that she is catching up with me. I have nine books out and two manuscripts finished, with a third about half done. Even so, she is catching up fast --- the student may soon overtake the teacher. I will wave at her taillights as she passes me by.

Have your own story to tell about what John Lennon means to you, or about a great loss in your life, or a blessed reunion? All of us have stories to tell; it is a matter of finding the courage and grit to make it happen. So, then, do you need some encouragement to take that first step on your 10,000-word journey? Join us on October 12th at Butler's from 4 pm to 5:30, and then after the readings stay on to buy a book or two, talk to the authors, and find out how they each made magic happen. Become the next person whose book launch I will be lucky enough to get to sponsor. See you there!

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The AVC Blog is curated by Language Arts member Charles Hood. He can be reached at chood@avc.edu and reminds readers that this blog does not reflect the views or endorsements of the Board of Trustees, the District as a whole, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, or the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.



2 comments:

  1. It is inspiring to hear about these two writers in a very enjoyable and thought-out post.
    The last three paragraphs resonated with me most because of how it describes well the excuses and procrastination we, aspiring-to-be, writers more often than not fall prey to.
    However, these writers here overcame such excuses and have written great works no matter the obstacle (I hope to read these works soon). I cannot wait to support them on Oct. 12th!

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