Friday, June 19, 2009

The return of Alex the Great: A sense of play should last a lifetime

A sense of play should last a lifetime

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — He’s back! Or almost ... and for a little while, at least.
Grandson Alexander the Great is going to spend a big chunk of the summer with me prior to a family move from the Pacific Northwest to Phoenix.
And just in time. I’ve been musing a lot lately about the need for a sense of play to help us get through tough times.
Soulmate Dr. Roger and I discussed it during a recent vacation, when we frolicked through several elevations, three kinds of margaritas and some Type A side bets. I won one by making it through almost five days without checking my e-mail ... I think his best effort was three days. But he picked up some extra points by patiently and amusingly explaining the rules of ice hockey during the playoffs to sports-dyslexic moi.
We both learned some playful pointers by watching the mallards at Inn of the Mountain Gods. I’ve always believed that ducks are proof that God has a great sense of humor, which is crucial to creative play.
In fact, I believe that a fair sense of playfulness — and a sense of fair play — are as All-American as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, vital to all we cherish and hold dear.
And if you find your will to play has ebbed with the years, or never fully developed in childhood, there’s no remedy like spending time with a kid or a grandkids.
I remembered a Michigan State professor who informed students in a child psych class that play is a child’s work, which kind of daunted the whole concept for me.
But as I watched my son Ryan and later young Alex and his small amigos in various playgrounds around the country, I finally got the professor’s point. Play is the way a child learns best, about himself, others and the world.
If you watch a crayon-clutching, tongue-thrusting kid in the act of full-tilt creativity, it’s clear that he or she is engaged in some serious business. But I think a lot of that business takes place in the magical right brain realm that transcends time, space and stress.
It’s a place we try to return to as grownups, through whatever forms our playful impulses may take us: art, gardening, dancing, nature adventures, extreme sports, a night out with the girls or the boys, a vacation or fun getaway with a loved one.
True play is a strange, wonderful and mystical combination of intense concentration and utter casual abandon.
For some fortunate souls, play can even extend to dreamtime. I have happy memories of hearing my son, then a toddler, giggling in his sleep.
“I was dreaming of swimming with whales who laugh,” explained young Ry, who grew up to compose for, and play and sing with, some very amusing musical groups.
The best playtimes may be a kind of work, but it’s fun and fulfilling work, the kind those of us lucky enough to have jobs we love can experience with a sense of play and adventure all our lives.
Grandson Alex was born with a creative sense of play he’s shared with me, from blocks and babyhood fountain splashing through his early childhood and on into sophisticated cyberspace quests.
He was a Las Cruces resident from ages 3 through 10 and happily agreed to a series of goofy adventures that ranged from swing dancing with me on the Downtown Mall, to sampling strange hors d’oeuvres at art openings, engaging in avant-garde art projects and a variety of extreme fiesta activities.
He was never too cool to hang out with his Gram, or let me share tales of our escapades in print. In fact, he would often introduce himself like a politician running for a position as potentate of play: “I’m Alexander the Great. You may know me from such Las Cruces Style columns as ...”
The lad who first shook Cinco de Mayo maracas with me when he was a tiny babe in a stroller turns 13 this August. He’s a baritone now, and taller than me.
I expect it's time for more playtime with his peers these days. But I also hope our playmate-soulmate bonds are forever and we’ll remain boon companions in good-time cahoots.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

The heart and soul of our city

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — We’ve come a long way in resurrecting the corazon y alma (heart and soul) of our city.
While working on a recent issue of PULSE devoted to Las Cruces’ historic downtown area, I thought back to my first days as a resident of Las Cruces, back in 1994.
I remember that I loved the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, the Branigan Cultural Center, Branigan Library and Coas My Bookstore, which reminded me of the rambling, whole-block Powell’s Bookstore in my longtime home in Portland, Ore.
Otherwise, the Downtown Mall, as we called it then, and still do, despite noble efforts to rechristen it, was kind of, well, challenging. Others would refer to it in bleaker terms: a home for derelicts, a “graveyard of high hopes.”
I remembered the motto of Oregon activists and then-fledgling neighborhood organizations who vowed to “make the city a delight.”
They did. Portland became a wonderland of revitalized waterfronts, dramatic fountains and more park and wilderness land within city limits than any urban area of the country. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back, but my son keeps me posted on the progress of everything from light rail to their art and music scenes.
Las Cruces is much smaller, but we’ve also managed some major milagos in the “delight” department.
I walked the length of the Downtown Mall during a recent Saturday, reflecting on the changes.
The famous block between Las Cruces Avenue and Griggs has undergone a couple of major transformations in the 15 years I’ve lived here, and there’s no question that it’s looking better. The Rio Grande has gone from a quiet, dingy little second-run movie theater to an intriguing venue for live performances, with gallery areas and a nice suite of offices for the Doña Ana Arts Council. It’s joined an already impressive-for-our-size theater community that offers world premieres of original plays, ensemble pieces and local and traveling acts. The Las Cruces Community Theater was active when I arrived, and has been joined by Ceil and Peter Herman’s Black Box Theatre. Other regional venues have undergone enhancements or transformations. The Mastery in Life Center has started the twice-monthly Howling Coyote Coffeehouse open mic and jam sessions.
Court Junior High was then a crumbling mess, and hopeful plans were mere gleams in the eyes of Irene Oliver-Lewis and then-Mayor Ruben Smith. Today, it’s a restored Pueblo Revival showplace that houses Court Youth Center and its theater and Alma d’arte, a charter high school for the arts.
But it’s the block north of Las Cruces Avenue that’s still my favorite and everyone else’s, retro arches and all. It borders the Branigan Library, the new city hall and the entertaining CAPA art wall, which is attracting sticky-fingered art thieves, kind of a recessionary tribute, I suppose.
That best block, at least for now, still has the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, Coas and Branigan Cultural Center. It has since added the Las Cruces Museum of Art, part of a burgeoning downtown museum complex that now includes the Las Cruces Railroad Museum and, if all goes well, before too long will add the Las Cruces Natural History Museum, relocated from the Mesilla Valley Mall.
With luck and financing, we’ll also soon have a history museum in the historic Amador Hotel.
Despite tough economic times, galleries have made impressive inroads in the Downtown area, especially on that best block, where The Main Street Gallery, Blue Gate Gallery, M. Phillips Gallery and Unravel Gallery continue to offer venues for leading regional artists and specialties that range from Russian and European painting to fine art textiles.
We have some entertaining hybrids too: Savor art and coffee at Ocotillo Roasters Evergreen Gallery and custom tailoring and impressive international art at Art of Life Gallery.
We’re even developing a kind of downtown “Off Broadway” gallery tradition, with colonies of artists who have homes or studios in the region hosting periodic gallery tours and open houses, and the establishment of Mesquite Street gems like UnSettled Gallery. On Griggs, we’ve lost White Raven, and Paula Van Overbeke Voris now confines Griggs and Reymond to special events and classes, but In Effect, Dennis Lujan’s Griggs Street gallery, still showcases some of our most cutting-edge artists.
We can now enjoy art and cultural exhibits at the city museums, theaters, libraries, schools and nonprofit institutions like Southwest Environmental Center. We can see art during an outdoor amble, on the CAPA fence and as part of the Viva Ventanas project to add curb appeal by decorating windows in downtown buildings. Restaurants like Ono Grindz have art exhibits, too.
Coas and the Rio Grande Theatre host story hours for kids and join several downtown sites which take advantage of our status as a mecca for authors and poets by hosting booksignings , lectures and readings and regular story hours for kids.
In recent years, I’ve enjoyed everything from chamber music, dance and performance art to black tie galas and a magical winter festival on the Downtown Mall.
We are making our city —and its downtown corazon y alma— a delight.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tired of being scared? Me, too.

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — What are you scared about today? The economic crisis? Rising unemployment? Plagues and famines? Earth changes and global warming?
How about terrorists? And if so, where? At home or abroad? In Europe? Asia? Iran? Iraq? Pakistan? In the air? On the ground? On the high seas?
And when you were making your plans for the new millennium, did you really think the world would be concerned with pirates ... the real kind, not those portrayed by Johnny Depp on the silver screen?
Actually, it hardly surprised me at all. I’m a Baby Boomer and it seems like someone has been trying to scare me all of my life.
It’s kind of strange, when you think of it, since we were born to parents who tried so hard to make the world a safer, happier place for us, who survived the Great Depression and World War II, who took to heart President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s proclamation that “the only thing we have to is fear itself.”
When I hear that, I always think of a dinner in Santa Fe during the 1980s with British-born members of the “Greatest Generation,” who had survived some very scary things, including numerous German air raids bombing London, dangerous missions behind enemy lines, and searches for surviving friends and family in ravaged war zones and concentration camps.
“Somehow, I don’t ever remember the climate of fear being as great as it is now, in times of peace,” one of my dinner companions said. “There is this aura of free-floating angst, fear and anxiety that hangs over everything.”
And those were the golden days, comparatively speaking.
I think back to my childhood and the Cold War. The atom bomb drills when we were periodically asked to crouch under our elementary school desks and put our little hands over our heads, as if that could protect us from the force which ravished Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, those were also the days when we routinely and repeatedly stuck our tootsies into the Buster Brown x-ray machine at the shoe store to make sure each pair or shoes we were considering did not cramp our little toes.
There was a lot of confusion about what we should and shouldn’t fear and how to deal with it all.
Don’t be a litterbug. Save the environment. And that jingle I still find myself singing some days: “Buy soft drinks in throw-away cans. Start today!”
The war to end all wars. The Korean War. The Vietnam War. The Gulf War. The War on Terror. The Iraqi War. And those are just a few of the more-or-less official ones. Let’s not get into the border wars, the war on drugs, the immigration wars, religious conflicts and ethnic “cleansings” and the numerous international struggles and skirmishes of recent decades.
The Hong Kong Flu. The Bird Flu. Swine Flu. AIDS. Rabies. The Plague, again. Microbes from outer space, and while we’re out there: Comets. Killer Meteorites. UFOs and ETs with bad attitudes.
Had enough? Me, too.
This summer, why don’t we all take a little break from free-floating, mindless, soul-less fear? Consider the old maxim: Why worry when you can pray? Assess the situation, get whatever information we can and take constructive action when possible. Helping others always makes you feel a little better. If you can’t give money, volunteer. Or clean out your closets and donate what you don’t need to charity.
As Tenny Hale advised: When you feel like giving out, give outward. Take a deep breath and relax and rejoice that we are living in one of the most beautiful corners of the planet, populated with lots of sweet souls who care for one another and respect each other’s differences.
And maybe, ponder the full “fear” quote from FDR’s 1933 Inaugural address (find the whole speech at delivered during our first Great Depression: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at