Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Writer's Diary # 5: Site-Seeing

I'm pleased to report that oral history is alive and well in southern Arizona, thanks to dedicated historians like Shaw Kinsley of the Tubac Historical Society and Indira Berndtson of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. I took a break from writing  to make site visits to these two oral history projects here in Arizona. Shaw and Indira are typical of the dedicated and underappreciated individuals I meet whenever I visit community oral history projects. These are the people who are preserving our cultural heritage from the ground up.

If you are like me, you may never have heard of the village of Tubac, but it is the oldest settlement in Arizona, founded as a presidio in 1752 to support Spanish missionaries at the Tumacacori Mission down the road (definitely worth a visit). Tubac is about 30 miles north of the current US/Mexican border, and after many iterations in its 200+ year existence, is now state historic park and arts village, and a destination for Arizonans and others who know about it.

Shaw Kinsley is the Director of the Historical Society, and is working double time since budget cuts eliminated state support for the site. He showed me samples of the oral histories the Society has been collecting over the years -- of old timers and newcomers. Shaw is eager to resuscitate the oral history program, and to get the community excited about documenting their own history once again. The Tubac Oral History Project is an excellent example of how documentation of a little known piece of history will fill in the gaps in a much larger story -- with many chapters. The story begins when Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition which founded Yerba Buena, the predecessor settlement of my home town of San Francisco. And the recent history of Tubac is just as interesting, mingling stories or land acquisition and use, arts community, newcomers vs old timers, and border issues.

Indira  Berndtson is an equally dedicated oral historian,  documenting the history of a  higher profile site, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation at Taliesin West.  Frank Lloyd Wright purchased the property and founded Taliesin West in 1932 to support his vision. And what a vision! Aerial photos from that time show the property and the surrounding area as one gigantic slice of the desert -- no Phoenix, no Scottsdale, no I-10 of course.  Only sagebrush. 

Indira is the perfect person for the job, since she has both an insider's knowledge and and oral historian/archivist's perspective. She lived at Taliesin as a child when her parents were apprentice architects under Frank Lloyd Wright many years ago. Both Indira and her mother (at age 96) continue as long time residents at Taliesin.   

Indira's project at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is a perfect example of how oral history can offer another perspective to a well known person or movement. Frank Lloyd Wright is a greater than life figure in the public eye, and his public story is filled with controversy and myth. The 1500 interviews of persons associated with Frank Lloyd Wright and the Foundation offer a broad and balanced perspective to the public record. In fact, she has more research requests than she can keep up with. 

Bravo to Shaw and Indira and to all the community oral historians around the country and the world who are collecting, recording, and archiving personal accounts of their own communities  for the benefit of the public. It's our cultural heritage, folks. Without a sense of the past we are, indeed, bereft.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Writer's Diary, #4, Getting Real

This week has not been as productive as the first two. The task for this week is to write about cataloging and access for oral histories, the topics I know most about. Does that make it harder to write about them? I've entirely reorganized the material three times in three days, essentially wasting two precious writing days. Very frustrating, but I hope I got it right the third time. Now that I have the organization plan in my head, of course I have to transfer it to the keyboard. Another days work. And so it goes ...

In spite of this little setback, I am  pleased with my accomplishment and progress, not the least because of close email collaboration with my colleagues around the country. It makes all the difference in the world to get a question resolved right away, or get feedback on a troublesome passage, or generally get a social fix after a long day alone with my computer. Thanks, Barb and MK!!!

Despite good writing days and bad writing days, I always must remind myself that, in spite of all the progress, we are still in the early stages of creating a book. .A first draft is like a skeleton, or a fancy outline. Many, many steps to follow. Here's what goes into this particular writing project.

1. You get the idea and mull it over, changing it many times - DONE

2. You find publisher, and he gives you both encouragement and real deadlines. Thanks, Mitch!! - DONE

3. You create a book outline, which you know you will change many times, or get thrown out altogether, but still is important to give some structure to a big, amorphous project like writing a book. - DONE

4. From the outline, you break down the pieces into smaller pieces -- volumes (in this case), chapters, sections, knowing that it will be changed about a million time as you move through the project - DONE

5. You take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine, and remind yourself and your loved ones that you aren't really a masochist to write a book. - DONE, MANY TIMES

6. You sit down  with your outline close at hand,  and stare at the computer screen, waiting for inspiration to come. - DONE AND ONGOING

7. Then at some point your fingers start moving, and words appear on the screen, almost without effort. You keep typing, and you can't stop -- not for lunch, not to go to work, not to give your sweetie a kiss. The writing just keeps flowing. - DONE AND ONGOING

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 about a million times till you have a first draft. - IN PROGRESS

Once you have a first draft you have the skeleton of a book. Then comes
  • revision;
  • reorganization of content;
  •  fact checking;
  • inserting forms, examples and screen shots; 
  • verifying citations;
  • discussions about format and appearance; 
  • creating appendices; 
  • sending it out to readers; 
  • getting legal permissions for copyrighted material; 
  • preparing a final draft. 

Whew!!  In this case, I've only just begun .....

But I got out to do at least a little sight seeing. Here are photos from the San Javier Mission at Sunset:


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Writer's Diary, #3. Buckling down.

This is the end of my first week intensely writing and I'm pleased to report a resounding success.  No writer's block, no distractions, no going off on tangents, no fact checking that can't be done remotely. I polished off drafts of three chapters (of a 6-7 chapter book) and posted them on GoogleDocs for my co-authors' review. This is unbelievably satisfying because this project has been troubling me for some time.

Secrets to success? A combination of the best of circumstances for a writer. Much of it is due to close daily communication with my co-author Barb,  the perfect working environment here in my cousin's house in southern Arizona, and the hot dry climate which makes me feel physically good and therefore gets me into a good mood. The family of javelinas in the photo above live in the neighborhood and along with the other wildlife, keep me company.

Here's my work routine, dictated by the climate but it works well for writing. Up a little after dawn, go walking about 6-7 a.m. before the heat builds up. Back home, turn on the computer and do the heavy intellectual work in the morning, fortified by a full pot of Peets coffee, brewed strong. Take it  easy in the afternoon, with maybe even a nap in the heat of the day. Swimming* in the late afternoon, then back home for the part I love about writing. This is when I print out the day's work, take a cold drink out on the deck, and review, revise, think about possibilities for presenting material, and think expansively about my project. Then a quick stint on the computer to revise, and to bed fairly early to do it all over again the next day.

With so much success I decided to take a break for the week-end and do a little exploring. I drove south, and I stopped in the town Tubac, Arizona. Never heard of it before -- it's about 20 miles from the Mexican border. It claims to be the first Spanish settlement (though I thought Taos was settled 100 years earlier), and now is a thriving arts community.When I arrived at the end of the day, both the historic museum, and the galleries were closed, but it offered all kinds of possibilities for a future trip. Below are some photos from the town.

* I should mention that I always consider swimming work time (and, incidentally, I wish my employer would pay me for swim time). Swimming gives me clarity, as this is when I can see problems and solutions most clearly.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Writer's Diary #2. Settling In

The first day of my writing retreat and my desk is already messy. But that's a good sign. Things are happening and I'm creating enough stuff to mess up my desk. Today was to be my getting started day, with no benchmarks for completion. Yet I polished off the first chapter, aptly titled "Getting started [with processing oral history]".

It's easier to understand my first day success, if you know more about this setting. My situation is a writer's dream.

My cousin Ellen offered the use of her winter home in an adult community in southern Arizona.

What this means:
1. Because it is an adult community everything is works well; access to everything is close, good, and convenient; it is quiet, and it is safe.
2. Because it is nestled in  high country of the Sonora Desert, it is incredibly beautiful.
3. Because it is June in southern Arizona, it is too hot to spend time outside during the day. It also means that most of the residents that come here for the winter, have already returned to their northern homes and left the place to me.

All that adds up to an ideal situation for focusing on indoor, mental work without distractions.

It's hard to tell from the photo at the top, but as I sit at my computer I look out across the patio, then to the green belt which separates each block from the one beyond giving the impression of being alone in the desert. Far in the distance I see the mountains, hazy today, but always changing with the light and shadows and clouds. The critters are my constant companion -- some of them I see and others are hidden, but always, always is a chorus of birds, crickets, and other unidentifiable animals. As I'm writing, several bunnies, a lizard and a number of birds have crossed my line of vision.

Even though I'm a heat lover, it's not wise to venture out too much in the middle of the day. The best time for being outside is around 5-8 a.m. or in the evening after 6 p.m. Here are some photos I took on my morning walk. And now ... the shadows are lengthening and the breeze is coming up, and I think I'll head out for an evening walk.

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