Dr. Cheryl Howard is Associate Professor Emerita in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Over the coming months she will be introducing you to more of her students and giving you a glimpse of how a retired UTEP professor spends her time cooking, gardening and crafting. Photos from friend, former student and Borderzine contributor, Raymundo Aguirre, will accompany some of the blogs.
EL PASO – I used to work with an epidemiologist who collected phone books from all over the world. Dr. Buechley was a name fanatic. He used what he knew about the history and linguistics of surnames and his vast collection of phone books to write a computer program he called GUESS (Generally Useful Ethnic Search System). The question is why would an epidemiologist do that? Epidemiologists don’t study skin conditions (that’s epidermis and dermatologists).
EL PASO – Just recently, someone posted on Facebook a video of a crow “snowboarding” on a roof in Russia. It sure looked like the crow was having fun, making sure to bring his snow board with him to the top of the roof time and again. A day or two before was another post about a crow badgering two cats into a fight for his apparent amusement. And, you can watch Joshua Klein talk about his serious research on crows in a TED talk. He builds a vending machine for them, and teaches them to use it.
EL PASO – My roommate from college thinks only people our age (65 this year) are interesting. She is locked into the cohort of early baby boomers, with only a couple of year’s latitude. I disagree with her. We have had this argument before. I think it is narrow and rigid to think that only people who have shared certain events at certain times have something to offer. Yes, we were alive and know where we were when Sputnik went up and when John F. Kennedy was shot, but how many times does that come up in conversation?
EL PASO – Fooling teenagers is a hazardous occupation. They aren’t easy to fool; you have to be way smarter than they are, and they are plenty smart, even if they don’t look like it. The more you try to fool them, the harder it gets. If you try really, really hard, you are likely to get just the opposite of your intended effect. Teens are also highly skilled lie detectors and can sense BS concentrations of less than 5 parts per thousand.
EL PASO – I think we always knew that boys wanted to have fun, but it took Cyndy Lauper to tell us that girls did too. When the song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” came out, I fell in love with it. I was a serious college professor, a divorced mother of two kids, pushing 50, and declaring myself a “girl.” I could hear the commercial, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids” rattling around in my head along with the song. But not feeling particularly guilty. So why is it we think that fun is for kids only, that it is something juvenile, inherently not adult? When somebody says, “Grow up,” they mean, stop playing around and get serious, the fun stops here, at adulthood.
EL PASO – Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “I have said before that metaphors are dangerous.” They are a way to intuitively grasp difficult and complex concepts such as love, but … Kundera also says: “Love begins with a metaphor.” Metaphors are so powerful and flexible that we often use them to gloss over the difficulty of confronting the “thing” itself. We have sports metaphors, weather metaphors, sexual metaphors, but one of our favorite metaphors is the machine. We love our machines; they are so inserted into our daily lives that we are tempted to view all sorts of constructs in mechanistic ways. At least since the time of Newton and his laws of motion, we have found this way of looking at the world very handy.
EL PASO – I was reading a novel by Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero, and came across this line on page 241: “He had these maps of sound….” I had to stop, as I often do, reading this author’s exquisite prose and poetry, and ponder the phrase. What came after this phrase I don’t remember. I didn’t write it down; it wasn’t what I had to think about. “Maps of sound” was what I had to think about. What would that look like?
EL PASO – Can any holiday measure up to our expectations of it? As in any city, our appreciation of it probably depends on which streets we travel, what we do there, and with whom. Holidays come in all sorts of packages, some so large we cannot avoid, like the proverbial elephant in the room, and some so small we barely notice they have come and gone. Holidays emerge from some collective sense about the specialness of an event and a belief that it ought to be remembered, honored. These events emerge primarily out of religious traditions (Easter, Passover, Ramadan), nationalism (4th of July, President’s Day), and the recognition of relationships (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day). Among certain population groups, celestial events are also celebrated, such as the Chinese Moon Festival.
EL PASO – Old people say that the older you get, the faster time goes. Agreeing with them probably means I have joined their ranks. It is hard to get a grip on time as an objective phenomenon because we experience it so differently at different times in our lives. We have measurements for time smaller than nanoseconds and longer than centuries, and we have all manner of time keeping devices to keep us all on the same page, so to speak, in mixed metaphors. Time has been measured by the ethereal shadows of the sun, by phases of the moon, by water and by sand, by movements of planets and stars, by candles and by incense, by pendulums, and in relation to special or cataclysmic events.
I drove up to Albuquerque for Thanksgiving. My college roommate, Suz, was flying in from Portland, Oregon, and we were both staying with our friend Nancy who we had known for forty years. Nancy loves to give parties, extravagant ones, so between sighs and giggles over our youthful memories, we handled a lot of food, plates, silverware, and glasses. After all 20 guests had left and the dishes cleared, leftovers put away, we sat, just us’ns, and watched the Playing for Change video, Stand By Me, in our pajamas. Then we blew out the candles that took so long to set up and went to bed. There aren’t many things better than old friends, maybe a room full of cousins. Nothing begs an explanation or an apology.
EL PASO – As a child of the sixties and an observer of decades of apathy, I am happy to see young people protesting and demonstrating. “Occupy Wall Street” and all the other Occupiers are finally in revolt against the status quo. But protesters aren’t going to sleep in the parks forever, especially with winter coming. Already, local governments are trying to move demonstrators out. If they don’t succeed, Mother Nature eventually will. The people who have been involved with the Occupy movements say that the demonstrations have built “community.” I think that means that like-minded folks have connected with each other, exchanged food, ideas, Facebook, e-mail, and other information. So, “occupying” a particular place 24/7 is no longer necessary to stay in touch. It might be important to have weekly, or even daily, events to let people know the issues of the 99% have not been forgotten.
EL PASO – In 1918, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour, fighting ceased in World War I. This particular war was designated “the war to end all wars.” That particular November day has eventually become what we know as Veteran’s Day; it is not the day that all war ended. We may no longer be able to remember Washington or Lincoln’s birthday, but this date is unmistakable; today is this day. My personal belief is that we have had thousands of years of “civilization,” enough to teach us ways to solve our differences in more “civilized” ways. Perhaps we have not learned so much from our past as we think we have. Nevertheless, we keep sending young men and now women to represent our government’s official positions at home and abroad. Those official positions are clothed in patriotic rhetoric, but sometimes we can see the slip of opportunism or greed showing.
EL PASO – During this week we have been presented with three opportunities to reflect on our life and the lives of those who came before us. This year, Halloween also marks the day on which the 7 billionth baby (Danica May Camacho) has joined the world (www.7billionandme.org), giving us an opportunity to contextualize our own life amidst the 6,999,999,999 other souls on the planet, and to consider the planet itself. Halloween is no longer a child’s holiday; adults are increasingly enamored of costume parties and pumpkin carving. Whether child or adult, the day is a chance for us to be someone or something we are not, not quite, or not yet. In a way, it is liberating.
EL PASO – Who gets to say what is ugly or beautiful? When time is up on a parking meter, you may get a ticket. If you are really lucky, “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid” writes it. But who writes a ticket for an ugly space that we all have to look at? And why are curators and art historian types the only ones who can definitively say something is art and can be in a museum? Shouldn’t we all have some say in these matters, especially matters concerning the spaces and places we occupy every day? A couple of years ago, I watched a building being built and became uncharacteristically angry.
EL PASO – Last week I wrote about residential segregation and the stereotypes we have about people from other parts of town. This week I would like to follow-up on that theme, based on a reader’s comment. Frances Sanchez is one spunky woman who graduated from Bowie High School, lives in Washington, D.C., is studying for a Master’s degree in Cultural Journalism from Georgetown University and working with Candy Crowley’s CNN program, State of the Nation. She has never let her eyes wander from “the prize.” Don’t mess with her if you know what’s good for you. How do I know? I first met Frances when she was a student at Guillen Middle School. For two or three years I volunteered there, going once a week to meet with a group of girls to encourage them in pursuit of higher educational goals.
EL PASO – Years ago, even in small towns across America, there were “good” neighborhoods and “bad” neighborhoods. Living “across the tracks” always meant you lived on the poor side of town. In reality, everyone lives across the tracks; it just depends on your reference point, and people in power seem to be able to make the rules and the reference points. Sociologists know this as residential segregation. Banks knew it (and may still) as “redlining.” Cops know it as where trouble is likely to happen.
EL PASO – Show anyone, even a child, a few Picasso prints and they will be able to identify other Picasso’s from an array of artistic prints that include him. There’s something about a Picasso that makes it iconic, memorable. I would put Georgia O’Keefe in that category as well. Art historians can identify works by almost any known artist, but it takes years of study and some memorization to acquire that skill. If we had to pick a fiction writer who was identifiable by someone outside the field, would it be Steinbeck, James Joyce, or someone else?
EL PASO – Many years ago, one of our graduate students, Elea, wrote in her thesis: “the color of El Paso is brown.” I argued with her vehemently. She saw brown everywhere. I saw color everywhere: purple sunsets, yellow sunflowers, blue sky, green chiles, all the colors…even in the desert. Color was vibrant and alive…in nature, in murals, in clothing, architecture and food. ‘ Yes, there were brown people; they weren’t invisible, but some of them were Chinese, Korean, Lebanese.
EL PASO – Sometimes I get so mad I could spit. Talking to an IT person (Information Technology, or so they say) makes me feel like I spent the first forty years of my life living in a cave and the next twenty-four being either senile or hopelessly incompetent. I was there at UNM medical school when we had large machines that punched holes in IBM cards and we used things that looked a bit like knitting needles to analyze the data. I was there at the School of Public Health in Berkeley when the one computer took up an entire room that was climate controlled and almost surgically clean, and I had keys to it. I was there in 1981 when “portable” computers first came on the market and I bought one.
EL PASO – As students observe their professors’ personalities, myths (or truths) build up around their looks, mannerisms, and voices. I was known for my earrings and laughter, among other things known and unbeknownst. One graduate student suggested that they record my laughter and rig it to play in the building at random times or places after I retired. I asked about the students who never knew me. What would they think?
EL PASO – Deseo escribir sobre la frontera. Deseo escribir sobre ella sin llorar, pero eso no parece posible. Si todas nuestras lágrimas juntas cayeran sobre el Río Grande/Bravo irrigarían de nuevo su torrente. La edición «Mexodus» de Borderzine justo acaba de salir, y yo deseo leer y escribir acerca de todo esto sin llorar, pero no es posible. Mi amiga Georgina publicó un enlace hacia un artículo de El Diario que dice que 300 mil viviendas en Ciudad Juárez han sido abandonadas.
EL PASO – When I was nineteen and in college, my friend Gary House told me that I was too open with people, that I ought to be more cautious, more afraid. Some people were not nice; they might want to hurt me. I argued with him and stated that openness was the best defense, at least for me. After hours of discussion, I didn’t sway his opinion and he didn’t sway mine. I did, however, consider what he said long afterward.
EL PASO — Our cars are a little bit like lovers and a little bit like calendars. They remind us of the very best and worst memories of our lives. We still carry tender feelings for some of them and spit out “good riddance” when reminded of others. The older we get, our cars help us remember when and where things happened. “Oh yeah, I remember that trip from Albuquerque to Las Cruces, all six of us in the Pinto station wagon.
CLOUDCROFT, N.M. — Hannah was my grandmother, my father’s mother. Her family came from Cannon County, Tennessee and homesteaded on Section 15 near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. My grandpa came from an adjoining county in Tennessee and homesteaded on an adjoining 160-acre parcel in Section 15. They married in 1914 when Hannah was 21 and had four children.
I want to write about the border. I want to write about it without crying, but that doesn’t seem possible. If all our collective tears fell into the Rio Grande/Bravo, it would be a raging torrent again. The Mexodus edition of Borderzine just came out, and I want to read and write about it without crying, but that doesn’t seem possible. My friend Georgina posted a link to an article from El Diario that says 300 thousand dwellings in Cd.
EL PASO — Last week I was reminded of my first watercolor class. Hilda Rosenfeld painted exquisite flowers and was my teacher in a continuing education class at UTEP. Our first assignment was to make twelve squares on a piece of paper and use a tube of ultramarine blue paint to make each square lighter than the last. My first thought was how unexciting this exercise would be. At the end we would have twelve squares ranging from pure pigment to barely a hint of color.
EL PASO — It started at the dinner table. It was a Tuesday. Tuesdays were a “try a new recipe or fancy up an old one, invite people over, and sit down at the dining room table, light the candles” ritual. Josie, Raymundo, and Yolanda were there. My daughter asked us to choose a book to take with us into a post-apocalyptic world or to the proverbial desert island where we would be stranded and alone for an unknown length of time, perhaps forever. I remember only my own answer to the question.
EL PASO — If curiosity killed the cat, then I am a monkey’s uncle. This sentence implies that I would be surprised and somewhat foolish (monkey’s uncle) to believe that curiosity kills cats … or people. There are some dark sorts of curiosity that could conceivably get a person killed, but as a society, we consider both garden variety curiosity and foolishness as weeds and do our best to eradicate them in children. At least one of my course syllabi listed as a learning objective “to reclaim the curiosity of a five-year-old.” Five- year-olds have mastered the language enough to want to master the mysteries of the universe, but no one wants to help them. “Why is the sky blue?” “Because I said.” Why do some people have brown eyes and some have blue eyes?” “Why do dogs bark and cats meow?” “Do storks bring babies?” “Shh.
EL PASO — I began thinking about how people dressed and how much money they had when I lived in East Oakland. I kept thinking about it for many more years. I lived in East Oakland for about a year with a husband who just returned from Vietnam and had some months left to serve at the Oakland Induction Center, least favorite hangout of young men in northern California at the time. The neighborhood we lived in was almost as crazy and rough. On Sundays I swept condoms and hypodermic needles from the sidewalk. Sly and the Family Stone practiced until all hours within earshot, and a badass motorcycle gang roared up and down east 14th.
EL PASO — I can’t thread a needle or put material in the sewing machine without thinking about Mrs. Lane. She was my home economics teacher at Cloudcroft High School fifty years ago and I was one of her problem students. I resented the whole purpose of the class, making good little wives of us. It was my job as class clown to ask whether a tablespoon of water needed to be heaping or level. Just yesterday I came across a recipe for a soufflé and scrunched up my face in the vivid memory of that sunken mess.