Preparing to be Spontaneous

The Board of Trustees of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) is a remarkable group. We met yesterday in the new Denver opera house, a $75 million renovation project in the middle of our vibrant complex of theaters, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. During a break in our meeting, an architect for the opera house took us on a tour up to the main stage, into the lush hall of red seats featuring the latest in digital screens for translations. Workmen were pounding and sawing all over the building, which made for a tough board meeting as far as acoustics were concerned. What is remarkable about this WESTAF board is the passion most of us have for the organization. This translates into board meetings which have the snap and sizzle of an improv group, even as we move purposefully through a very tight agenda. We are a diverse group. Of the 13 trustees that we ourselves elect, eight are people of color. I love being in a group where I seldom know what the person speaking is going to say next.

Last night most of the trustees went home, and some of us stayed for a WESTAF symposium in Boulder titled The New Face of Arts Leadership in the West. This event, the latest in a series of symposia on intriguing subjects, focuses on diversity through the lens of youth. The two facilitators, Brenda Allen and Shane Moreman, gave a keynote after dinner that was a combination rap battle and Socratic dialog. Shane, who is half Mexican and half white, led off with a rant about how sick and tired he is of Baby Boomers leading his generation around by the nose, cramming creaky models of leadership down his throat. Brenda, an African American with the physical grace of a tall goddess, and who was born the same year as I was, 1950, blasted back with an ode to her feeling of leadership responsibility for her people in the 1960s, and her continuing quest to learn new ways of being a leader that fit the reality of diversity. It was tremendous. They had carefully prepared the keynote through e-mail back and forth between Denver, where Brenda teaches, and Fresno. They discussed improvisation as a new model for leadership and noted that the best improv is carefully prepared for.

My role as WESTAF chair at the symposium, which continues today, is to tell people where the bathrooms are and thank them for coming. This will give me a chance to keep my mouth shut and listen. I hope I don't miss that chance, squandering my silent receptivity in outbursts of goofy enthusiasm. I can't help it sometimes. I am so proud to be part of this quirky regional arts organization, and to be supporting its executive director, Anthony Radich, who is a Croatian-American and has an ancestor who fought for Napoleon. I am one-fourth French, making me a Franco-Anglo-American. Not a person of color, as the term is normally used, but someone who is entranced by opportunities to see new colors and hear words I've never heard before. To prepare to be spontaneous.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Writer's Helpers

It is a challenge writing a blog entry with Claire on the desk. But I forgive her, because she submitted to a fruitful photo session. Here she is posing next to a copy of The Journals of John Cheever, a source of endless inspiration and encouragement for me. "I dream that my face appears on a postage stamp," he wrote in 1962. And this: "I should take advantage of my maturity and not be dismayed at the loss of my youth."

Claire is wisely wary of the long drop from my desk to the floor. She steps carefully toward the edge and watches pedestrians on the 16th Street Mall. She perks up her ears at sirens. She scratches and licks a Tattered Cover Bookstore bookmark and stands on top of Cheever's postage-stamp dream. I dream that she will curl up in the empty In Basket so I can turn to work on poetry. Instead she is chewing on the bookmark with her little butt next to my left hand on the keyboard. Then she stands on three legs, scratching her left cheek with her right foot. I wait to write again while she laps my left thumb with her long little tongue.

Part of why Cheever's journal helps me in my own writing is that it provides glimpses of the backstory to his incredible fiction. His work, like anyone's, proceeded amidst a recognizable array of hopes and fears. In fact, his work is precisely made up of the elements that he named so candidly in the journals.

The first page of a new journal, and I hope to report here soon that the midle section of the Wapshots has fallen into shape. I expect that I will continue to report here that I drink too much.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

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