April 23, 2011 Getting Kids to Spin Words
We had an invigorating week with poets-in-the-schools at Raton High School, getting our students to spin words and feel excited about their results. We'll continue next week, culminating Friday in the 5th Annual Poetry Marathon. (I photographed and wrote about the 2009 and 2010 events.)
Danny Solis, looking like a pirate (left), worked with one of my honors freshman English classes. After the students filled pages with their writings, Danny encouraged them to share their work at the Poetry Marathon, even teaching some stretching exercises to precede their presentations. I took a poll at week's end: about 80% of the students plan to present a favorite poem.
We got the idea for doing this from the Des Moines School, which last year had a 3-day residency of poets arranged by my wife Christina Boyce under contract to provide arts programming through her Studio C. Des Moines declined to continue the program, but Raton took their example and created a two-week program, with plans already underway to renew it each spring.
Watching Albuquerque performance poet Manuel Gonzalez in action with the Des Moines students inspired me to find a way for us to bring him to Raton. New Mexico CultureNet provides the poets; Raton's Whited Foundation provided the money. (See my new portraits of Manuel and Danny at today's TKP Blog.)
It was so much fun having Manuel in my classroom (right). His poetry is alternately ferocious and tender. The only thing he wouldn't allow my juniors and seniors was empty pages. When a girl wasn't producing, saying she couldn't think of anything, Manuel sat down in the back and playfully but insistently cajoled her until she filled her page. Later, she stood to read her poem to the class.
Manuel returns next week, joined by Jessica Helen Lopez. The whole shebang culminates with the students joining Manuel and Jessica in reading their new poems at Friday's Poetry Marathon -- all day in the school library and, for the first time, live from the Shuler Theater stage at 7 o'clock Friday night.
April 17, 2011 Ranch Vehicles
The two biggest stories I've developed this year have been the Brown Ranch and Max Evans. That's my border collie Django above the frozen pond at what was, 65 years ago, Max's ranch off Blind Gap Road outside Des Moines, New Mexico. I got two stories out of Max: "Max Evans's New Mexico" in the February issue of New Mexico Magazine, and "The Horse That Made Max Evans a Writer" in the upcoming June issue of Western Horseman.
Right now I'm enjoying a wave of correspondence and guestbook greetings resulting from my Brown Ranch feature, "Home on the Range", just out in the May issue of New Mexico Magazine. Darien Brown and I both got a kick out of a decision the magazine made to protect Darien. The feature included an image in which Darien's grandsons sit in the back of a little white ranch utility truck. The caption says "Kyle and Kade wait in a truck bed..." although the sunflower field behind them is blurred with motion. Apparently it's illegal to drive with children loose in the truck bed, so the magazine used good judgment to suggest they were just sitting and waiting in a stationary truck.
The magazine left out another image I love, showing Darien chasing some cattle down an arroyo on a 4-wheeler, the boys riding in front of him. The magazine's editor allowed that she, too, grew up on a ranch and that's the way it was there too -- but no need to bring trouble on Darien. She's right, of course. Too bad, though: I think it's a great image. Darien's even wearing his pistol on his belt, something I discuss in the feature -- which I hope you'll go out and find. It's perhaps my best feature to date, and I know it's on good magazine stands from coast to coast. If you need further coaxing, check my narrated Photo Tour on New Mexico Magazine's website. Thanks!
April 9, 2011 Going Multi-Media with a Photo Tour
The highlight of a full week was making my first in-person visit to the offices of New Mexico Magazine where I finally met a lot of the people I've been working with on various projects. I was there to record the narration track for the magazine's online Photo Tour, which for May will feature my Brown Ranch story, "Home on the Range". (That's Darien Brown above.)
The magazine will arrive next week, and the Photo Tour will be posted online at the same time, with additional images that didn't fit into the magazine. While you're there, look below and you'll find my February Photo Tour, without narration, on "Max Evans's New Mexico".
I got home to discover that The Chronicle-News had run my pair of circus photos (immediately below), but the flying clown photo was accidentally miscredited to my friend and colleague Richard Sitts. I playfully harangued him -- I love that flying clown image! -- but it wasn't his fault and these things happen everywhere.
I also worked with Western Horseman magazine this week: they're featuring me on their June Contributors page and needed a photo and some details. They'll be running my feature "The Horse That Made Max Evans a Writer", due out in mid-May, right after the May/June issue of National Geographic Traveler arrives with a pair of my photos in their "New Mexico Road Trip" feature.
As if that wasn't enough to make it a good week, I've been on spring break from school! Just seven weeks left and I'll be off for the whole summer, which is already filling up with great writing and photography projects. Cool beans!
April 4, 2011 The Wind and the Circus Arrive Together
No, that's not a 60 mph wind gust blowing away Alex the Clown, star of Carson & Barnes Circus, but it could have been. The wind forced the troupe's two Raton shows to be held outdoors yesterday rather than under the huge Big Top the circus usually erects. Shooting photos outside gave me unique images and probably made the photography easier, though the wind and lack of the Big Top diminished the crowd and the excitement.
Alex the Clown is actually high above a trampoline in this photo. He shares star billing with the elephants and spends more time earning it thoughout the show itself, although the elephants double up by giving rides all day as children and adults gather to see them up close. (I've just posted my own pair of elephant portraits on today's TKP Blog.)
The elephants are only on for a few minutes but they close the show and they're the consummate professionals -- very impressive, especially after seeing them just stand around all day.
Two people have expressed concern to me about the welfare of the circus animals. Christina and I agreed that the animals appeared to be well cared for and to have a good life. They have jobs to do and they do them well, which pleases any animal. They're circus performers whose lives aren't markedly different from those of the 125 humans they travel with in nightly caravans moving from one show town to the next. They put on two shows daily, performing 240 days per year. During the four winter months they're relaxing and learning new stunts at home in Hugo, Oklahoma -- again, the same as the humans.
This 75-year-old circus has been including Raton in its schedule since 1987. Next time around, I'll be back...but I hope the wind won't.
April 2, 2011 The Good Thing About Editors
As he prepared my feature "The Horse That Made Max Evans a Writer" for publication in the June issue of Western Horseman, editor Ross Hecox, himself a fine writer and photographer, wasn't satisfied.
The horse in the title was Blackie, a cantankerous gelding Max bought here in Des Moines, New Mexico, from grocer and neighboring rancher George Larkin. When Wiley "Big Boy" Hittson took the horse off Max's hands, it was the beginning of close friendship between the two young neighboring cowboys.
Max eventually based his now famous "Old Fooler" horse in his first novel, The Rounders, on Blackie. Later, after Big Boy was shot to death, at age 23, at the home ranch by his own younger brother, Max immortalized Big Boy and, again, Blackie -- this time as "Old Sorrel" -- in his second novel, The Hi Lo Country. Max credits Blackie with turning him away from ranching and toward writing, then giving him the subject matter of his two most successful novels.
I used that for the title and hook but, because it was for Western Horseman, I focused my article on a look back at the ten great horses of Max's life, from his first, Crickett, when Max was four, to his last horse, Powderface, who Max gave to his cousin when writing took over Max's life.
But Ross felt that I needed to further develop the hook established by the title: the article needed more information on Blackie and Big Boy. So, even as it approached its press run, Ross guided me this week through a couple revisions. I added four paragraphs and 350 words, bringing the feature in at over 2000 words. Ross was happy with the result, and so am I.
I called Max (top photo) at his home in Albuquerque to run the first revision by him. He liked it; he'd already been urging me to submit the piece for consideration for a Spur Award at the end of the year. As for Big Boy and Blackie (lower photo), they're long gone but I think they'd get a kick out of it. The rest of us will be able to see it when the June issue of Western Horseman arrives in mid-May.
March 27, 2011 Murder and Mayhem
This weekend's "Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play" was a hoot. Unlike anything Raton has seen before, it failed to draw much of an audience, which was a shame. The others don't know what they missed.
The two-hour comedy presented a troupe of radio actors producing two Alfred Hitchcock murder mysteries live on the air. If you closed your eyes you'd get great radio fare -- but watching the actors work was way too much fun so you simply couldn't close your eyes.
Bill Fegan (left, and far right above), who's been at the Shuler Theater since 1962, took a rare turn onstage in a series of supporting roles. The rest of the cast, too, was a who's who of Raton's theater community.
Young Spenser Willden, at top, inveigles Billy Donati in a scene where his mother, the play's director Gail Dixon-Willden, is seen just to his left, in the brown dress.
I enjoyed using that verb -- inveigle -- in my Chronicle-News review. It's not a word that gets to appear much in a newspaper.
The show was presented in dinner theater at Pappas' Sweet Shop for two nights before moving to the Shuler, where it was presented in honor of the theater's 96th anniversary.
Although Billy Donati (right, and in straw hat at top), aka Billy D of KRTN radio, played no lead roles, he pretty much stole the show nonetheless. Besides wearing many hats (literally) in many roles, he designed and, with Stephanie Jansen, executed all of the show's many live and recorded sound effects, which were about half the fun of the entire production.
Garrison Keillor has announced his 2013 retirement from "A Prairie Home Companion" and said that he's searching for someone to replace himself. Garrison, I've found your man. He's Billy Donati. I'm not kidding.
There's only one reason I can imagine that my preview of "Vintage Hitchcock" in last Tuesday's Chronicle-News failed to result in larger crowds to enjoy the show: after the newpaper's decision some months ago to withdraw all newsstand sales from Raton -- an absentee decision by corporate management which was economic but misguided -- there simply aren't many people left in Raton who ever see the newspaper, despite its logo which proclaims "Proudly Serving Southeastern Colorado and Northeastern New Mexico". Both the newspaper and northeastern New Mexico lost on that one.
March 20, 2011 All Over the Map
It's been an extraordinarily busy week, as evidenced only in part by my having three features in the weekend edition of The Chronicle-News. I've been out doing photography deep into the night for the past four days in a row. I was ready for the weekend!
This image of Chante Valdez, Amanda Eggebrecht, and Danielle Leininger (from left) is my favorite of the school shots I took this week. Amanda is a young filmmaker planning a career as a director. With her friends, she made a short film that has won the gals a trip to Washington, D.C. I photographed them using window light in a corner of my own classroom for a background that accentuated the artsy action and creativity of their film. (As always, click any photo to view large.)
That night I photographed a rehearsal for next week's "Vintage Hitchcock - A Live Radio Play" which will play both The Shuler Theater and dinner theater at The Sweet Shop. Featured here are Mark Jansen and Gail Dixon-Willden as radio actors. The show is great fun. I wrote a preview this morning which should run in the Chronicle by Wednesday.
Other highlights included shooting the Cimarron Solar Facility late Friday afternoon for a professional client, and going out to the Vincent's Springhill Ranch with Christina Saturday night to photograph the perigee moon, about which I've just blogged at length over at my TKP blog.
I've been so busy that it took a long regional power outage yesterday morning to get me to kick back and start reading a novel. Now that I'm done here, I'm going to take some much-longed-for rest and return to that.
March 12, 2011 The Samanthas (Da Do Ron Ron)
I just finished writing a feature for The Chronicle-News that proved even more enjoyable than I had imagined.
Friends Samantha Atwater and Samantha Iacobelli (from left, at my own classroom desk) have been classmates since their years at All-Saints Catholic School in Raton. As Raton High School seniors, they're the leaders of the school's fledgling Future Educators Association chapter. They're heading off to different colleges to become elementary school teachers.
The joy I find in writing is all about finding and telling a story. There are stories everywhere you turn -- good ones. When you spot one, you see only the surface. You ask questions, anticipating what the reader will want to know. As a surrogate for the reader, you plumb your own curiosity. More questions.
You find and shape the story, first through the interview(s), then in your head on the way home, and finally with your notes as you compose at the keyboard, flipping back and forth through the pages of notes. I put an asterisk by the Chronicle stories that I've most enjoyed writing: they're the ones where I've felt successful at finding and shaping the stories, and I enjoy going back to read those again.
The Samanthas -- I enjoy calling them The Samanthas, as though they're a team of superheroes, or a 1960's girl group -- have been job-shadowing teachers for three years. I can tell they're going to be great teachers, themselves. I enjoyed weaving their story with nods to the great teachers who have inspired them. If I did my job well, you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
March 6, 2011 A (Tiny) Star Is Born
Eeny-meeny Raton actress Zoe Gomez took her star turn this weekend as Madam Prescott in Raton Youth Theater's production of "Captain Bree, Scourge of the Sea" at the Shuler Theater. Even Captain Bree herself, played by Nathaly Torres (back, right), couldn't budge Gomez's stubborn matriarch. (Review)
Gomez is an eight-year-old third grader who hasn't yet reached three feet in height. Yet, on a stage full of 28 young players, she stood out as the gifted actor of the bunch. Already a veteran of RYT productions, she immersed herself in her role, adding to the comedy as everyone else -- all children themselves -- towered over her elderly matriarch.
Wonderfully expressive, Gomez appears to have an exciting future on the stage. Theater-goers will be the big winners.
March 1, 2011 Tally Up
Do you ever wonder how many other people are here? Or where they're from? I do.
I can't find out who has been here (I rely on the Guestbook for that, hint hint), but both Google Analytics and Earthlink Site Statistics provide a lot of other interesting information. I can see, for example, what other sites sent visitors, or what links or search terms brought them. I can see what pages they viewed, and how long each stayed. I can see the central location of each visitor's Internet Provider.
For almost a year now, the site has averaged about 200 visitors each day, though the numbers are currently on an upswing. The photography side gets about 60% of the traffic, the arts side 40%. The single greatest source of traffic by far is, not surprisingly, New Mexico. California, Texas, Colorado, Utah, and New York, in that order, contribute visitors most days. Every state was represented during the past two months...except Alaska. Who knows what they're doing up there.
During the first two months of 2011, 23% of visitors were from 59 countries outside the United States. Pakistan led the list, followed by India, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh, and Canada. Next came Russia, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Cambodia, Indonesia, Italy, and Mexico. The countries contributing visitors who averaged the most pages read (37) per visit were France and Poland.
Aside from satisfying some curiosity, I guess the best use of all this data is to reassure me that I'm not just talking to myself. And you're here, too -- thanks!
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