Thursday, February 24, 2011

A city of storytellers

Some of us do it with plays and movies.
Some think songs are the best way to do it, in every style from rock and pop to symphonies. Music is just the starting point for some talented souls who mix in ballet, pantomime, belly dancing, hip hop, tap or even hula hands.
Others prefer poems, books and short stories.
I’ve done it with nothing but a pencil and scrap paper on an isolated lagoon in Jamaica. Now, I do it almost every day with a pen and notebook, or on park benches and hillsides with my new Macbook, or on a keyboard in a shifting series of newsrooms.
I’m doing it right now, in fact.
However we do it, we all tell stories.
And Las Cruces, more than any place I’ve ever lived, is a city of eloquent storytellers.
To paraphase an old line from TV shows and film noir classics, there are thousands of stories in the City of the Crosses and thousands of storytellers to tell them.
When I decided to do a little sidebar for today’s SunLife story on the Jennie Curry Storyfest, it quickly became clear what Jennie had wrought during her century on the planet.
I started with what I thought would be a short list of place where people could hear or tell stories. The list kept growing, beyond the Storytellers of Las Cruces themselves, who share tales regularly at both Coas Books (a good deal, I can attest as a grandmother, which includes free entertainment plus a coupon for kids to choose a free book).
I thought about Dave Edwards Saturday storytelling at the Rio Grande Theatre, plus all the events at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library. Then I remembered that storytelling, from poems to standup to orginal songs, is a big part of the burgeoning number of open mic events around town.
Author and Border Book Festival founder Denise Chavez has made storytelling an integral part of the festival and related year-round programs.
And that’s only the beginning. Irene Oliver-Lewis, a founder of Court Youth Center and Alma d’arte charter high school for the arts has led a resurgence of interest in oral history project and made a milestone cultural contribution of her own with her award-winning play, “Dichos de mi Madre.”
Tony Award-winning Las Cruces playwright Mark Medoff has brought epic stories twice to Broadway, to many movies (including “Children of a Lesser God,” which garnered an Academy Award for Marlee Matlin and an Oscar nomination for Mark) and is still helping new generations tell their stories through ground-breaking projects like “Another Planet” and at New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute, which he helped found.
Ceil and Peter Herman built their own theater —The Black Box — and theater company to tell stories, adding to a burgeoning number of storytellers at the American Southwest Theater Co., the Las Cruces Community Theatre, the Fountain Theatre, and several children’s theater groups.
Bob Diven has become our resident Renaissance storyteller, sharing his stories through original songs, plays, videos and multimedia artworks that range from oil paintings and Sun-News cartoons to weekly chalk renderings during the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market, Saturdays on the Downtown Mall.
Stephen Hansen’s whimsical sculptures tell amusing at-a-glance stories in museums, corporate headquarters and embassies around the world.
Dance, music, theater, literature … visual and performing artists all tell stories in their own way.
Five minutes into my “short” list of Las Cruces storytellers, I realized there’s no way I could list all the storytellers of the Mesilla Valley.
But February For the Love of Arts Month is prime time to come up with a list of your own favorite stories and storytellers. And it’s the perfect season to go out and see and collect some new favorites, and maybe be inspired to share some stories of your own.
That’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Adios Agaves

By S. Derrickson Moore
The spring weather the last couple of weekends has been delightful, give or take a 50 mph dust gust or two.
But the pre-spring euphoria has been bittersweet, as I’ve wandered through my favorite neighborhoods, watching my amigos mourn their lost agaves and assorted other bushes, trees and shrubs.
I saw a friend say a sad “Adios” to the beautiful variegated agave in the courtyard of his Mesilla adobe home.
“It’s time had come,” he sighed.
I checked out the giant saguaro that survived a move from the old city hall to the Branigan Cultural Center. It rallied to delight us with big waxy white blooms for the last couple of years. The tough old beauty looks like it has one slightly sprained arm, but it appears to be hanging in there.
What can you say about the devastation of a February that will go down in the record books — literally — as we recorded some of our biggest highs and lows, from zero and even subzero in some parts of the territory to almost 80 degrees within a couple of weeks.
It’s a twilight zone step beyond the usual suspects. What do we blame?
Global warming? Global climate change? La NiƱa phenomena? Solar flares? In a February of extremes, what triggered what? Why did millions of Egyptians, after more than 5,000 years of pharaohs and assorted other dictators, decide this was the perfect month for a Facebook-induced freedom fiesta?
It’s global weirdness of cosmic proportions, humanity and nature busting new moves in this strange surreal pre-spring.
And speaking of surreal, back home on the high desert range, all of my cacti are still assuming the molten poses of Salvador Dali watches, but they seem likely to survive.
I’ve been having heartfelt talks and cheering them on, but I’m not as hopeful about my now-giant agaves, nurtured since puppyhood, victims of the record freeze siege.
To be accurate, agave are not cacti, but succulents, and they seem to agree with me that snow sucks.
I planted them when I moved into my new semi-adobe abode over a decade ago. Like my burgeoning collection of Facebook friends, they keep growing and multiplying in mysterious ways, and (also like the Facebook gang) they have a tendency to deliver a bumper crop of sometimes irritating pokes when I least expect them.
I can be innocently pruning my pines and tending my petunias when I feel the prickle of a stealthy spike that I could swear was not there yesterday, or even a few minutes ago.
Though my assertive agave occasionally draw blood, I still feel they’re just trying to be friendly … agave adolescents, feeling their oats.
They’ve never really hurt me and their sculptural beauty always seemed a fair trade-off for a little territorial encroachment.
My agave amigos and I have been through a lot together and it’s hard to see them dying. I wonder if there is some kind of plant Viagra that will lift their spirits, their sadly sagging leaves, their joie de vivre.
Some of their puppies look like they have a chance but the dowager queen and king parental units seem to grow sicker by the day.
Should I wait until April as some experts advise, before I decide if they are ready to go to that great desert in the sky? Can anything be salvaged? Could I coat them with adobe or paint their skeletons lapis blue to form some sort of lasting sculptural tribute?
This could have been the spring that four or five of them sprouted those remarkable Godzilla asparagus stalks that seem to grow several feet almost overnight. It wouldn't seem quite so sad, if they’d been able to flower and go out in a blaze of glory, instead of departing just as they were reaching their prime, before their time.
Adios, agaves.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Harvest a bumper crop of Valentines

Who are your valentines this year?
Sweethearts get the most attention from the merchants, but I think for a lot of us, the roster of loved ones gets a lot bigger and a lot more diverse, the longer we’re on the planet.
Many of us have given up Christmas cards these days and are waiting until February to catch up with loved ones, both far-flung and local.
As with other holidays, there are funny, beautiful and touching e-cards available, but somehow, when it comes to valentines, only the real, tangible thing will do, snail-mailed or hand-delivered. And I always try to slip in a few anonymous cards, signed “Your secret admirer” or sealed with a bright red lipstick print.
Handmade or embellished v-cards are always appreciated, with sweet notes and quotes … preferably original, but timeless poems and thoughts from your favorite authors are also nice.
Every year, I scour the stores for interesting packages of valentines, the kinds school kids give each other.
If you haven’t checked them out lately, you’ll be surprised. My favorites this year are the 3D and holographic shapeshifters: flowers that morph into ladybugs; X-ray effect dinosaurs that go from skeletons to fully-fleshed prehistoric monsters; cute puppies, kittens and jungle animals that move from distant to extreme close-ups with a flick of your wrist.
There are cards for good sports: fold-it-yourself basketball hoops with teensy paper basketballs and artistically patterned oblongs that you can form into magnificent flying machines.
The kids’ assortments offer not only some of the most innovative, cute and beautiful stuff out there, but also are a good fit for almost every budget.
In fact, you could delight and disrupt your entire office and field an entire fleet of paper airplanes or establish several paper basketball leagues for less than the cost of one or two super fancy-schmancy card shop valentines.
I couldn’t limit myself to just one or two kinds this year. I rounded up several varieties and sent assortments to loved ones all over the globe, from tots and seniors to city sophisticates and soldiers.
Maybe I should have pondered if it’s really appropriate to send school-kid valentines — however high-tech, amusing and/or touching — to cool and worldly teenage grandson Alexander the Great, or to my nephew on the front lines in Afghanistan.
But I’m pretty sure that there’s not a person on the planet who wouldn’t welcome a little token of love. And if there is such a soul, he or she is exactly who most needs to be bombarded with valentines.
Every year, I try to brainstorm a little and come up with some new potential valentine recipients.
We all think about our A-list sweethearts, whatever we call them: spouses, fiancees, significant others, life partners, boyfriends and girlfriends. Most of us remember our family and extended family: kids, granddkids, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
To really get in the spirit of things, maybe the people who come to mind last should be moved up to first place, for a change. Surprise that black sheep, track down the long-lost and remember the forgotten with the biggest and best valentine, maybe with a special note with your memories of happy times together.
If you’ve lost a loved one recently, Valentine’s Day can be a lovely time to scatter ashes, take flowers to a grave, or join with others they loved to share a meal, memories and maybe a few laughs and a few tears.
Fill your pockets with valentines and hand them out all day long — to casual acquaintances, strangers at supermarkets, people you’ve always meant to get to know better.
You could enrich lives in ways you’d never expect. And you might end up with a bumper crop of new and renewed valentines yourself.
Happy Valentine’s Day.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

Missing my newsroom nicho

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — I used to grumble about it from time to time, but I miss my newsroom nicho.
I flung stuff into the “move now,” “clean and save” and “throw out” boxes, to make way for cleanup crews dealing with the aftermath of the Sun-News fire.
As I tried to make snap decisions about things that have been a part of my life for decades, the realization finally hit me. I have occupied that corner of newsroom real estate longer than I’ve been anywhere else. Ever.
It’s been 17 years since I wandered in for my first day of work and settled into my little cove. The newsroom was very full then, and the late, great, Harold Cousland had told me it was the only desk available.
I was daunted. My last offices in Palm Beach County, Fla., had seemed at least half the size of the whole newsroom, and I’d had them all to myself. One office even adjoined a lobby with a manmade lagoon and a little indoor tropical jungle. With palms. And swans swimming through it.
Colleagues consoled me that I’d landed in a great location in the heart of the newsroom, complete with lucky travel vibes. A former occupant had just gotten a great job and gone off to live with his girlfriend in France, if I remember right.
I scoffed, but shortly thereafter, the paper sent me to Germany for two weeks to cover a Sister Cities trip. I’m pretty sure it was the first and only Sun-News foreign correspondent gig, before or since, that involved more than a 100-mile roundtrip border run to Texas or Mexico.
I already loved Las Cruces, and settled into the newsroom portion of my new querencia. I created a floor-to-ceiling art gallery, and purchased a large, white pre-fab counter to top my battered old metal desk.
I came in one weekend with a gallon of New Mexico sky blue paint and transformed — or at least improved — battered old bookcases, files, tables, a wall or two, and even, with the help of an artistic and rebellious Sun Life editor, made a stab at beautifying the upstairs men’s room.
Most of what I painted was promptly swiped by other departments, but it kicked off the first of several renovation attempts.
I’ve seen lots of ceiling tiles come and go, along with several coats of paint, a couple of layers of carpet, and repeated attempts to get something to grow in the brick planters by our front door. I found a xeriscaping expert who put in some great desert plants that flowered and thrived in benign neglect until one of our new publishers had everything ripped out. He thought they were weeds.
Except for publisher Michael Bush’s gift of a fleet of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever enjoyed, and a nice assortment of Ashley’s furniture, a lot of the improvement efforts turned out to be, as one reporter quipped, “pretty much lipstick on a pig.”
Still, it was our pig.
I’ve spent more total time than I’ve been in my newsroom nicho in a couple of states — Michigan, Oregon and New Mexico, if you add in my two years in Santa Fe. But I’ve moved around a lot, at various jobs, cities and houses within each state … in an apartment and three adobe abodes in the Las Cruces area, for instance.
But during all my local time, except for vacations and a week or two for various in-building relocations for renovations, I’ve been in that same newsroom nicho.
Our interim digs have their own perks, of course.
“How many journalists have worked in a newsroom with seven chandeliers and gilded mirrors?” I mused as we left the Ramada Palms ballroom for more extended temporary headquarters at 715 Idaho Ave., conveniently located within walking distance of Tom Young’s, where I’ve been a regular almost as long as I’ve been at the Sun-News.
We have newsroom windows for the first time, and other new amenities.
But windows and proximity perks, like swans and chandeliers, aren’t everything. I miss my Downtown Mall ‘hood and my newsroom quenencia nicho, and I’m looking forward to moving back home, soon.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450.