Such a rollercoaster of a week!
This Monday, I was delighted to help introduce Sheela Free at the launch for her first book of poetry Of Fractured Clocks, Bones and Windshields. I met Sheila last year when I spoke at San Bernardino Valley College's Humanities Day; she is an English professor there, and we had a wonderful, energizing conversation about teaching and writing and the senses following my talk. She later sent me some of her poems by email, and I was moved by their raw, from-the-gut power. She had never published her work before, and asked for my advice. I had an intuitive sense that she should send her poems to Plain View Press, a small publisher in Austin, Texas committed to melding art and social change. Sheela pulled a manuscript together, sent it off, and much to our mutual thrill, Plain View wanted to publish it.
The launch was held in the same room where Sheela and I met last year. The auditorium was packed with her friends and family and students and colleagues, everyone so excited. Several people gave introductory remarks; when I gave mine, I mentioned how I felt a bit like a matchmaker or a midwife, helping the book find its way into the world (although of course it was the book, not me, that was the true propelling force). I am so proud of Sheela and so happy that I could help make such a celebratory day possible. Her reading was one of the most exciting I've ever attended; she made her poems participatory--she had all of us snapping and clapping in rhythm, doing call-and-response, standing up and pretending to hold a strap on a bus as she read a poem about her mother riding the bus to work (her mother was in the audience, beaming with pride.) She read with such passion, such humor and grace. It was truly awesome to behold.
The next morning, I was still coasting on the energy of the event when I got some not so happy news--because of the budget crisis in CA, there are no classes available for adjunct lecturers like myself at UCR next academic year. UCR is my main source of income, so this (while not unexpected) was quite a blow. So many people I know have been affected by the economic downtown, and of course now it has hit home more than ever. I trust that I'll be okay--already, other possibilities are percolating--but my heart aches for those who have lost jobs and don't know where to turn.
One thing I'm hoping is that this scary economic climate will help us remember the power of community. Friends have been talking recently about putting together a sort of co-op where we'd share food from one another's gardens, have weekly communal meals, etc. When my kids were little and we lived in Family Student Housing at UCR, we would often have neighborhood meals, each family bringing a course, and it was a way to save money and share in community--everyone was in the same boat then, poor but hopeful, and as many of us are in the same boat now, there are great opportunities for helping one another out (and keeping hope alive.) Sheela's reading was another wonderful example of the power of community--much of Sheela's work is rooted in unimaginable grief, and I could feel the room supporting her, buoying her, as she shared poems about losing her daughter, celebrating with her as she shared poems about the pleasures of delicious, sizzling dosas. It may be a cliche, but it feels truer than ever right now: when we can share our sorrow, it becomes easier to bear; when we can share our joy, our joy multiplies. Thanks for letting me do both here.