SAFARTS — Thanks Felix & Ernest!

For those half-dozen loyal blog readers, I'm sure my absence has been chalked up to the fact that I've been slaving away on my November Novel (because, least we forget, November is national-novel-writing-month). I only wish that were true. Well, it is, to some degree. I've been moving along fairly well, but I have to admit I've fallen behind a bit in my word count.

The truth is I'm always on the lookout for an excuse to put off … well, anything.

Like last night. I had a dinner meeting with AJ Garces. We were supposed to meet at a particular Jims restaurant, but it was packed. We relocated to a nearby Dennys. AJ noticed that Dennys was using some of his clip art (Havana Street dot com). And so we talked about a couple of different projects we were working on. Nothing too extreme. Yet we didn't get out of there until midnight. Now, sure, I could have explained that “I need to get home and work on my novel.” I did not. And there went my Thursday night.

Or how about tonight. It's now seven thirty. I was over at Urban-15 earlier this afternoon talking to Catherine Cisneros. She and her husband George have enough faith in me that they're bringing me onboard to write grants. Although, because George had to head up to the north-side, and because their groundskeeper and their building manager eventually left, I hung out to keep Catherine company, even after we'd wrapped up business. Because, well, you know, the place is haunted, and I'd be remise to leave her alone with the unsettled spirits. (Even I, an agnostic in such matters, had heard at least one of the ghosts be a pest.) She suggested I microwave some rice and fish left over from lunch and we had a bottle of white wine as we trash-talked some about the local luminaries whose acquaintanceships we had in common. She eventually received a phone call from George. He decided he had no reason to return to the building, so we could lock up and leave. So we did.

And now, back home, I have no reason not to add more pages to my novel. Except … hmm, wait! It's been a spell since I've added to that ol' blog. And I believe I have at least a photo to upload.

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If those bastards who run a particular national film organization would just pay me the damn money for the work I did for them seven weeks ago, I wouldn't be begging rice and fish. But on a bright side, I picked up a useful tip from my sister's blog. Boil pecans for five minutes and they are easier to shell. I don't know if you could get the same effect by soaking them in room temperature water (I'll do that experiment when CPS turns off my gas because of lack of payment — you know, because of those bastards with that national film organization who are so slow to pay). But back to pecans. This does work. Boiled, they peel real well. And because the mammoth pecan tree above my driveway has unleashed chingas (if I might be excused use of the local patois) of nutty goodness, I've been able to add free food to my meals. It seems I'm well on my way to embracing the hunter and gatherer lifestyle. The latter is a snap, and the former seems a clear enough path — I've already formed a palpable dislike for the Alsatian over the back fence who shoots me a baleful glare as I hang my laundry. I've begun to appraise those meaty haunches with a culinary calculation.

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Day before last — Wednesday — I made sure to keep my calendar open (don't smirk). San Antonio's Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) was having their annual Creating Ways conference. It was free. All I had to do was sign up via their website (which doesn't seem to support any browser but Internet Explorer — people still use that?). I didn't have much of an idea what to expect, but it was downtown (a five minute trolly ride away), and I was promised a free box lunch. Also, I knew about six people who were also going. Count me in.

I got there a bit after eight in the morning. Great coffee. Fruit and croissants. I talked some with Rogelio, a fellow filmmaker who I hadn't seen in months. And then I went and spoke with my friend Deborah who was standing with some of the docents from Bihl Haus Arts. I then realized they had a table set up there in the lobby. Kellen and the docents were setting up piles of literature.

Just before the doors to the conference opened at nine, I saw Catherine Cisneros (of Urban-15) and Malena Gonzalalez-Cid (of Centro Cultural Aztlan). They invited me to their table. I followed them inside. Denise Cadena (also of the Centro) was there as well.

We began with the basic opening comments from gassy bureaucrats. Eventually Felix Padrone, the director of OCA, stepped up and gave a nice over-view of what his office is currently engaged in. OCA is connected to several really great programs to help both individual artists as well as artistic organizations. Sadly, Pete Barnstrom couldn't make it. He had just returned from a film festival in Costa Rica, and, one can only imagine, was busy weaning his young'un off the week's worth of pure cane sugar and caffeine made available by an indulgent baby-sitting grandmother. But Felix made mention of “enjoying those amusing emails from Pete Barnstrom,” and then there was a quote from Pete (concerning, I believe, the Creative Capital conference, funded by OCA) which was projected on screen during one of the Power Point presentations.

Who still uses Power Point?

There were 400 artists in attendance. Can there be a format more aesthetically bereft than Power Point? No, I think not. And some of these drones were giving us texts on randomly chosen color schemes such as lime text on magenta background. This sounds comical, I understand. But take a moment to consider this. Artists are trained in this sort of graphic layout approach, with color and proportion and et al. And these assholes with the city seem not to have considered it worthwhile to hire an artist to design their presentations. Tax dollars are going to fund this, the Office of Cultural Affairs, and there seems to be no one with a modicum of art training on hand to interface with the public, or worse, to interface with the art community.

And then we got what, I assume, the whole performance was all about. The unveiling of a new ad campaign. The ad group is PR titans, Bromley Communications. They trotted out some tissue of crap meant to distill the San Antonio art scene. They were gonna brand us! While their ill-conceived ad campaign played itself out on the two big video screens on each side of the podium, we were also treated to images from the website … a website designed by G2E Services. There can be only one reaction. Dump Bromley, and give the entire contract to G2E. Do it today.

What this Bromely chap told us, with a chuckle in his voice, that his firm had looked into the demographic they wanted to pull into the arts. “She's a woman,” he began, “between the ages of 18 and 48. Married with children.” I guess he assumed she was the culprit. You know, that person who wasn't patronizing the arts enough. “We call her Minnie Van Norma.” Or was that “Mini Van Norma?” It took me until the third time he said that line to figure out this play on words. You see, this Bromely dude was labeling soccer moms. I'd like to know where is the line-item of the budget they've tended to the city which breaks down the amount they think this phrase is worth — 'cause it strikes me as an in-house bit of rhetoric that no self-respecting ad firm would ever allow to get out into general circulation; and there they were, spouting it out for 400 artists to hear. That's strike one against them.

Now, as someone who was brought up as a good all-American feminist, I was rather offended. And during one of the breaks, I did my own straw poll. I found no one who thought it clever. Two people smiled indulgently as I sputtered my own disbelief. Four individuals agreed with me. And six people, all women, and all heads of arts organizations in town, were even more disturbed than myself.

Beyond Minnie Van Norma, they showed us their logo. “SA[heart shape]ARTS.” And then they expanded it to slogans such as SAHEARTS. One of the folks at my table scribbled on a napkin, and passed it around our group. SA[heart shape]ARTS — a letter “F” had been placed inside the heart shape. SAFARTS. I whipped off the pen I carry clipped to my collar and added some radiating lines coming from the rounded cleft top of the heart, representing the gassy and farty nonsense emanating from this conference. A couple of folks at an adjacent table, spying this whole new exciting logo, smiled and nodded encouragement my way.

SAFARTS it is.

But don't think I wasn't impressed and entertained and informed. I mean, shit, the coffee was good, I enjoyed my free box lunch, I met some good friends, and, best of all, I was absolutely blown away by the guest speaker, Sir Ken Robinson. He's featured on the TED talks website. He's one of the great public speakers and one of the great minds of our age. It was an amazing privilege to spend over an hour in his presence.

Also, I bumped into Mark Walley and Angela Guerra. They make video and graphic art under the guise of the Prime Eights, but all I've been able to see so far has been their website (brilliant!). Their video is compressed and provided in some manner in which my computer, operating system, internet browser (or some combination) won't allow me to access. When I mentioned this, Angela reached into her shoulder bag and handed me a DVD of their reel with killer cover art. Maybe I should watch it right now. But do I dare? Aren't I supposed to be writing a novel?

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When I blogged about what a blast it was wandering the ruins of the drowned city of Antigua Guerrero, I made a point to explain that the gothic factor of this ultra cool experience was sure to outstrip what my friends would be doing in the days to come with Halloween and Dia de los Muertos.

For those readers out of state, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of those loved ones and family members who have passed on. It's celebrated on November 2nd. There are plenty of internet resources to enlighten. But here in San Antonio, there is a more specific component (which has moved out to many other cities). And that is bringing these Dia de los Muetros alters into the galleries. Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez, a man whom I'm privileged to call my friend, brought these alters into the local galleries as an expression of Chicano art way back in the '70s. And this practice has become ubiquitous in the San Antonio art scene, and it's moving out into the society in general.

And so I made sure to attend the show at the Centro Cultural Aztlan before considering all the other choices offered in the art galleries throughout San Antonio on the night of November 2nd (which happened to fall on a Friday, a night of gallery openings, but this was also First Friday, when the galleries in the artsy neighborhood I call home would be making significant noises). Ramon had his own artist alter across town at the McNay Art Museum. But Ramon is one of the founders of the Centro Cultural Aztlan (though he's recently retired), and as the chief of the local Indian tribe (a part of the Coahuiltecan nation), Ramon was on hand to provided the blessing. He was in his indigenous garb, holding a stone with sage and other herbs burning — he wafted the smoke our way with an eagle feather. He's a very articulate and moving speaker. It was a wonderful evening.

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Deborah and the docents from the Bihl Haus Arts Center invited me to dinner. We went to Jacals, a nearby Mexican restaurant Pete and Lisa turned me on to when I first visited them here in San Antonio. The Bihl Haus docents are all elderly women. The gallery is in an ancient refurbished house which has been surrounded by a retirement community (the Prime Rose), and as such, the residents help run the place. There were 12 of us at the table. And not only was I the only man there, I was also the youngest. And as the Margaritas began to flow, I had the head docent leered over to me and ask how it felt to be surrounded by my own harem of Golden Girls.

I muttered something noncommittal (probably about the weather) as I scarfed down my guacamole chalupa.

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Okay. I really do have to head off and write a novel. Or, um, go to bed….

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