Slow Reader: My Life as an Unhurried Writer and Thinker

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Detail from Rembrandt van Rijn, Titus van Rijn, le fils de l’artiste, lisant, 1657, oil on canvas

I read rather slowly, I always have. I even have the habit of running my thumb down the edge of the page, alternating left-to-right, as I wend my way through various books and articles. Regardless of the reason why I’m reading something, my eyes habitually take their time working their way down to the end of each page. When I was in elementary school I think some of my teachers and their aides must have thought I was intellectually slow. However, I tested well and was consistently one of my teachers’ favorite students. Not all of them favored me, of course, nor I them. When, for example, I was taking a high school English course with Mr Murphy he had us read some ‘American Short Stories’ anthology. Do you know this book? It’s supposed to be a classic. Anyway, Mr Murphy was very proud of the fact that he considered himself a brisk reader, claiming to read any of the stories in our book in less than 15 minutes, which he said he did nightly before going to bed. In class, though, as we held our pocketbook editions in our hands, we were told to read a story by Sherwood Anderson. “It shouldn’t take you longer than 30 seconds to read each page,” he asserted before giving us fifteen minutes in which to complete Anderson’s story. Concentrating as best I could, I nonetheless felt myself racing over the pages, seeing each word, but not really reading them. Then, when time was called, Mr Murphy looked at me and asked me for my opinion about some facet of the story. I sat there speechless. I couldn’t remember anything! After an uncomfortable eternity, Mr Murphy chided me for my silent reaction and proceeded to ask another student the same question, who had something of a response, having had the advantage of extra time to sift through the story before being put on the spot. I felt mortified. I also felt angry. This pompous old man had the audacity to presume that teaching merely consisted of boasting about his intellectual prowess then setting up his students for humiliation! Worst of all, I resented the experience of being forced to rifle through a story like that. It felt unnatural, not to mention disturbing. Unsurprisingly, I wound up getting a D for my final grade. Mr Murphy obviously didn’t like anything about me or my performance in his class, in which I was never disruptive, disrespectful, nor even a minute late. Fortunately, life moved on and I left that school and that dreadful man behind for opportunities in higher learning where I could indulge my inclination to savor words and sentences, rereading them again and again, until I felt at one with the text. It’s how I got through college, through two graduate programs. And it’s how I got through my doctoral dissertation, writing a phenomenological analysis of the poetic experience. Reading slowly is who I am and it defines my relationship to the written word, which has influenced my work as a scholar, as I carefully read and reread my sources, and as a teacher, as I try to guide my students into the inner depths of the texts I ask them to read and read again.

Monster Apocalypse! Mothra and the Atomic Age

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Ishiro Honda’s Mosura tai Gojira (1961), which was released in the US as Mothra vs Godzilla (1964), is one of the more popular installments of the legendary Godzilla franchise. This is in spite of the fact that Mothra, as conceived by renowned character designer Eiji Tsuburaya, doesn’t do very much throughout the length of the film. Mothra does battle Godzilla during the film’s climax, which is played back at almost slapstick speed, most likely due to the creature’s cumbersome puppet-design. Yet, Mothra has become a prominent member of the kaiju bestiary, which Honda and his collaborators, unleashed unto the global movie-watching public. For me, Mothra first appeared ominously on my parents’ portable black & white television when I still a small child. As I grew up watching these films, including the Americanized Godzilla (1956), starring Raymond Burr as “Steve Martin,” I’m not sure at what point I realized the significance of seeing movies with exclusively non-white casts, Burr’s somber presence notwithstanding. Since the stations I watched as a kid growing up in southern California only broadcast the English-dubbed versions of Honda’s movies, I probably thought that the actors were speaking in their real voices but, because they were Japanese, they awkwardly created characters whose English diction was strangely incongruous with their physical mannerisms. Eventually, I was old enough to understand what dubbing meant, followed many years later by the opportunity to finally watch Honda’s movies with their original Japanese soundtrack. Otherwise, for many years only Honda and Tsuburaya’s visionary creatures had names, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Son of Godzilla. The Japanese characters, on the other hand, were simply there anonymously to fill in scenes between monster appearances. I even knew Ghidorah’s names and not the actors who evoked fear and sympathy for the giants that ran amok across the Japanese homeland. At this point in my life, however, Mothra vs Godzilla is no longer a camEmi py monster movie made by filmmakers with paltry budgets and little talent, at least as compared long ago in my immature mind to the big-budget American movies I preferred. Instead, Mosura tai Gojira is today a revered chapter in the mythology of my childhood, which taught me that even monsters have a place in the world in which we live, protecting us from our foolishness as humans as we threaten our own existence with nuclear annihilation or environmental disaster. When I watched Akira Takarada and Yuriko Hoshi, playing a reporter and his photographer, cover the aftermath of a typhoon at an unnamed coastal village, I was really watching what happens in many oral traditions once the previous world is destroyed to make way for a new reality. For those villagers worried about their lives as fishermen and women, that new reality emerged in the form of a gigantic multi-colored egg that suddenly arose from the ocean waves. What that ovular being portended was the upheaval generated when humans throw the world out of balance, the consequences of which, as written by Shin’ichi Sekizawa (who also wrote other screenplays featuring Godzilla’s confrontation with sizable foes), would lead into an epic conflict of monster proportions. If only we would listen to the pleas of the Shobijin, the twin fairies, played memorably by Emi and Yumi Ito.

Cruising to Salvation: Lowrider Art in the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

[photo credit: David Martínez]

Luis Tapia’s Altar (1992) epitomizes the Chicano/mestizo/Hispanic experience in the so-called New World, as seen from the vantage point of New Mexican lowrider culture. Created during the quincentennial celebration of Columbus’s ill-fated “discovery” of America, which was replete with the genocidal conquest of Indigenous homelands and the intermarriage of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, Tapia’s altar pays homage to cruising, desert landscapes, and the protection of the saints. Ultimately, it evokes a festive yet dolorous world, in which the settling of the western [sic?] hemisphere has given way to an eternal drive down a desolate highway, on the wrong side of the road, still miles away from the nearest town.

The Streets of Albuquerque: The War On Poverty Is Turning Deadly

The Streets of Albuquerque: The War On Poverty Is Turning Deadly

[photo credit: David Martínez]

On Friday, April 4, sometime after 5pm, as I was heading to the Sushi King, next door to the Sunshine Theater, I suddenly heard a commotion from down Central Avenue. I could hear voices shouting, followed by an eruption of car horns. It wasn’t long before I spotted a large group of people carrying signs, walking en masse on the north side of the street, heading eastward. Before arriving in Albuquerque, I had seen news of the APD’s controversial and tragic shooting of a homeless man flow down my Facebook newsfeed. I knew many were upset by the excessive use of force, which was a concern I heard firsthand during my visit. However, the people’s concern had obviously turned from worry to action. Albuquerque is a poor city populated with good, conscientious people. With this in mind, I actually felt genuine excitement, even pride, as I witnessed the change for a better community that the people marching down Route 66 were seeking. They were just ordinary men and women, young and not so young, who seemed to understand that what happened to James Boyd could easily happen to any of them. The New York Times reported on March 30, 2014: “A helmet-camera video showed Mr Boyd agreeing to walk down the mountain with the officers, gathering his belongings and taking a step toward officers just before they fired.”