Tag Archives: Tucson



Washington, D.C., Lisa O’Neill


Phoenix, Lisa O'Neill

Phoenix, Lisa O’Neill


Detroit, Lisa O'Neill

Detroit, Lisa O’Neill


de·cap·i·tate (di-ˈka-pə-ˌtāt)  v. behead


The word architect comes from the Middle French architecte, from Latin architectus, from Greek arkhitekton “master builder, director of works,” from arkhi- “chief” + tekton “builder, carpenter.” An Old English word for it was heahcræftiga “high-crafter.”


To be an architect is to use your mind to conceive of bodies, buildings, frameworks. It is to see how objects could align, could fit together. To be an architect is to construct a dwelling made of many parts.


Structures are about foundations and support and design. They are also about absence. They are about what is contained and what is uncontainable.


Last night, I saw two improvisational dance groups perform: The Movement Salon and The Architects. A dozen years ago, I would have been dismissive of improvisational dance—much as I was of abstract painting or performance art. I would have sat there making myself miserable as I picked apart what was wrong with art created in the moment, without “preparation” or “process.” I would not have thought about all the process and preparation that went into being ready to construct something in and of the moment.


But much has happened over the last twelve years, so tonight I was in awe. I was deeply moved and lightened and full of gratitude. Here’s why: because improvisational dance is not only amazing to watch: the spontaneity, the interplay of the performers, the moments of synchronicity in movement, song, speech. The experience of improvisational dance provides amazing practice for life. Life requires risk and being vulnerable. Life requires presence in the moment and paying close attention to the actions, movements, needs, bodies, thoughts, feelings of all those around you. Life can have you laughing one minute and crumpled on the floor the next. Life is made in the living, no matter our designs or plans. Life contains multitudes.


After the performance, some friends and I, one of them a performer, were having a conversation about the show. I shared what came up for me while watching. That we—okay, I’m going to take out the safe plural pronoun—I can live my life so contained. I am often measuring myself. How small do I need to be in a given situation? How large a space am I allowed? It’s as if I’m on a rollercoaster and must keep my limbs inside, as per the instructions. Only instead of just my limbs, my emotions, thoughts, opinions, heart, and mind must be contained as well. How little can I be to make myself safe?


But how limiting is that? How constrictive?


These performers embodied expansiveness. They committed to their movements, to their words, to their interaction with one another. They stomped on the floor. They slid across. They took one another’s hands. They lept from one side of the stage to the other. They cracked jokes. They sang. They plucked strings and then led the bow across them.


Many people in my life have told me about the process of growing a bigger container, to hold the richness and fullness of life: the light and the dark, the weightlessness and the gravity.


“We have an expression we use all the time,” my performer friend said, “Even when you are out, you are in.”


Even when choosing to push yourself into the corner of the stage.


Even when you aren’t moving.


Even when your voice is a whisper.


You are in.


The only decision is whether we acknowledge that we are.


To live is to be vulnerable, regardless of what we tell ourselves. No matter how many barriers we construct, no matter how small we make ourselves, we will face pain, suffering, rejection. But we do get to decide whether or not we reject ourselves. We get to choose how small or big we are. It’s the difference between folding our arms tightly across our chests or stretching our arms wide.


When I was in my mid-twenties and going through a particularly shitty period of my life, my younger cousin sent me a card she had made with a painting of a girl outlined in black and colored in red. But instead of the red being contained within her figure, it spilled outside. Across the top, she had painted: “Some passions are uncontainable.” Inside the card, she told me the girl was me. That is maybe the best compliment anyone has ever given me.


I want to spill over, to spill out, under, through. I want to live my life in a way that when I’m done, I will have spent it. I will have left this earth with heart, mind, body used up. No more paint in the tube. No more tea in the cup. No more pennies in the jar.


We can live in our heads, constantly marking and processing how to be in any given situation. Or we can choose to fill up a space with our entire bodies, to be all in. We are the master builders, the high-crafters of our lives. We have the materials. We have the time. We have all the space we allow ourselves. The only question is: what will we build?

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en·force (enˈfôrs), v.t.  [ENFORCED, ENFORCING], [ME, enforcen;  OFr. enforcer, enforcier; LL. Infortiare < L. in, in + fortis, strong], 1. to give force to; urge: as, he enforced his argument by analogies. 2. to force; compel. 3. to impose by force as, don’t enforce your will on the child. 4. to compel observance (of a law, etc.).

For enforce, the third word of flash fiction february, we have guest flash fiction pieces by writers Beth Alvarado and Julia Gordon (respectively). Read on and enjoy.


And maybe you were told not to raise your voice, as in don’t raise your voice to me, young lady. You were sitting in the classroom looking out the basement window.  You could see the shoes and pants and bare legs of others walking by on their way to lunch.  You could smell them sneaking cigarettes and the smoke smelled a little like grilled cheese sandwiches and made you hungry.  Don’t tell me you wrote this yourself, and she handed you the sheet of notebook paper with an F circled in red at the top.  Her fingernails were also red.  And maybe you thought red, the color of shame, as in the Scarlet Letter, you supposed, that made sense, but it wasn’t your shame. You crumpled up the piece of paper with the red F and then left it behind in the wastebasket.  You walked out of the room.  There, you thought, keep it, the evidence of your own small mind.

Maybe later you were told you didn’t have a voice, as in this writing is too feminine, too flowery, it will never have any power. You were sitting in his small office in the university, again in a basement.  You were wearing a yellow dress, you were barefoot because it was the 1970’s, and he was smoking, his fingers stained with nicotine, which is another kind of yellow. There is, you thought, no evidence, and so you went home and wrote about yellow, which is when you remembered fear:  the older neighbor boy:  the round aluminum trailer.  You were six, then, when he tried to undress you and fear flooded up from your gut into your mind, making you lightheaded.  But what you remember most is rising up out of your body and speaking, the slap of the trailer door as you left that place behind.

Much later, when you were a mother, you wanted your daughter’s voice to rise up out of her body.  When she was an infant and you held her over your shoulder, walking her up and down the hall, your bare feet on the cold tile floor, her body warm and damp from sleep, you sang to her and she sang back, a breathy humming in your ear. When she was in kindergarten, you bought her a red dress with tiny yellow giraffes; she wore it with her brother’s old cowboy boots.  She put too many barrettes in her hair.  When strangers talked to her, she hid behind you.  She is shy, you explained, but it seemed wrong, as if to blame her for their transgression, and so you learned to say what felt more true: she has been taught not to speak to strangers.  Still, you wanted her to find her own voice, you did, and so when she grew up, as daughters do, and wanted to kiss boys and to talk back to you, you had to listen, just listen, even when the words were knocking around in your own chest and catching in your throat.



Beth Alvarado’s Anthropologies, A Family Memoir, is part of the Sightline Series in Literary Nonfiction from the University of Iowa Press (2011).  Her story collection, Not a Matter of Love, won the Many Voices Prize, which honors work that has “a strong sense of place and speaks to our troubled times with empathy and aesthetic courage.”  Other recent work has appeared in Nimrod, Sonora Review, and Western Humanities Review. She is the fiction editor of Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts and teaches at the University of Arizona.






Hug, Hug


Once, Lara had the most awkward hug in the world.  Other people have had awkward hugs.  You have had awkward hugs.  Surely Lara’s awkward hug wasn’t the most awkward hug in the world.  But it was.  Lara’s hug was with Kevin, who found the hug to be uncomfortable too, even if he didn’t think, at the time, that it was the most awkward hug in the world (which it was). Later he would realize it was, but he would not wonder why.  It was just one of those things.  Many things were just one of those things.

Lara wondered why.  Lara wondered how, of all the hugs in the world, did she manage to have the most awkward one? Lara thought and thought about that hug. She wondered if it was because the hug was on the corner, and there were people watching, but Lara had had lots of corner-hugs and none of them were the most awkward hug in the world – except her corner hug with Kevin. She wondered if it was because Kevin’s elbow had touched the side of her breast at the start of the hug, but Lara had had that happen many times before, ever since she got breasts, and none of those breast-touch hugs were the most awkward hug in the world – except her breast-touch hug with Kevin.  She wondered if it was because she had a belly full of food, but that wasn’t it, either.

It was not the most awkward hug because she had two drinks.

It was not because it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

It was not because it did not end in a kiss.

It was not because it was Wednesday.

It was not because her hat was ugly.

It was not because her thumbs ached.

Lara started to wonder if it was the most awkward hug in the world because of a person in the hug. Lara started to wonder if it was because Kevin was in the hug.  Lara thought that might be it.  She started to wonder why that would be. Kevin was the man who said “sit, sit,” and Lara sat. Kevin was the man who said “write, write,” and Lara wrote.  Kevin was the man who said “drink, drink,” and Lara drank. Kevin was the man who said “suck, suck” and Lara sucked. Kevin was the man who said “snort, snort” and Lara snorted. Kevin was the man who said “cry, cry” and Lara cried.  But Lara was the one who said “hug, hug.” And that was why.



Julia R. Gordon is a writer with over ten years of experience in the non-profit sector as well as a background in government and political media, fundraising, and message development. Since 1998 she has worked as a writing consultant; currently Julia works at the University of Arizona and Raise the Bar LLC, and serves on the Board of Directors for Casa Libre en la Solana, a Tucson, AZ-based literary arts organization. She also writes for The Skein, an online blog she created to explore politics, government, society, and interpersonal relationships through language and the written word. Julia was born and raised in downstate New York, and made her home in Brooklyn for a decade, prior to relocating to Tucson in 2009.  She is a graduate of Cornell University.

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Filed under flash fiction february


Obama Speaks At Memorial for Victims of Shooting, http://www.huffingtonpost.com

thrive* \ˈthrīv\ verb

1. To make steady progress; prosper.

2. To grow vigorously; flourish

*The title of tonight’s memorial was “Together We Thrive: Tucson & America”

I was there tonight in Tucson. I stood in line with the thousands to be able to participate in the memorial for the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting, to be able to pray for healing of those who are still in the hospital and for all those impacted by this tragedy.

I went because I wanted to stand up with my community and remember those we have lost. I went because I wanted to pray for the healing of those who suffer. I went because I wanted to hear what our leaders had to say.

As a college instructor, I have decided to spend some of my rhetoric class time examining and discussing texts about the shooting. It not only feels relevant to talk about words and their meaning at times like this, it feels necessary to give students a space in which they can wrestle with their feelings about an act of violence taking place in their adopted town, at a grocery store that could be their grocery store.

As we discuss in class, the words we say and the way that we say them matters. We each need to take responsibility for our own words and we need to call those we listen to, particularly our media and our political leaders, to be responsible for theirs and to speak in a way that invites rather than discourages open and thoughtful conversation. Obama said it the best last night when he said: “It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

One of the moments I valued most about tonight was when President Obama spoke about the importance of not making this an opportunity to hate one another. He said: “But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. That we cannot do.”

I myself am guilty of this. When 19 people, including a congresswoman I deeply respect, were shot on Saturday, I immediately thought of the rhetoric surrounding her reelection campaign. I thought of Jesse Kelly and his screaming campaign strategies. I thought of the tea party and how often their language includes words that insinuate violence, and how whether these words are figurative or literal is often hard to tell. And on top of the enormous sadness I felt, I became really angry.

We need to listen critically to all points of view we are exposed to. But being angry and blaming those who invoke this kind of language is not ultimately the solution. The solution is not to return anger with anger, hate with hate. It seems to me that the only real solution is to move towards a society in which kindness, respect and empathy are woven into the fabric of our institutions, our neighborhoods, our daily lives. And while I do think it is important to hold our leaders and media personalities accountable for their language and encourage speech that is inclusive to understand different points of view (as Obama talked about when he emphasized the need for civil discourse), it seems to me that the most important step that each of us can take individually is to model in our day to day lives what we want our world to look like.

Meaning: we choose to be kind, to be empathetic, to be respectful, to be generous. We weigh carefully the words we use when we speak to one another. This sounds simple, but I believe it is one of most difficult things we can commit ourselves to doing. I think of how many times per day I allow myself to become annoyed with other people: because they are not moving quick enough, because they should have used their blinker, because they are being too loud. Sometimes I merely note this to myself, but sometimes this annoyance comes out in my speech or my body language, to my perceived offenders or to other people.

One of the things I have heard multiple people say about Gabby is that she is someone who genuinely loves people, someone who tries to find the good in each person she meets.

Our responsibility is not only to be kind to the people we know and love (and let’s be honest, we aren’t always even able to muster that), our responsibility is to be kind and loving to people we don’t know and yes, to people that to us, for whatever reason, feel the hardest to love.

Underneath vitriolic political rhetoric, underneath cuts to mental healthcare, underneath lax gun control laws—all of which are valid and important things to discuss and sort through together—is a society has become sick from a severe lack of connection. We don’t realize how much we need each other or how our choices and interactions impact each other. We don’t try to understand each other. We don’t love each other in the way that we need to love and be loved. This denial of our interconnectedness is a wound we all carry and it is something that we can begin to change with every interaction we have.

Tonight, as President Obama shared stories about each of the victims, we laughed and smiled and cried as we, as a community, celebrated their lives and, in turn, grieved for their loss. When the President told us that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time, the stadium erupted in joy, people jumping out of their seats, tears streaming down cheeks.

I think of a young man I saw at the University Medical Center on Sunday night who had a piece of fabric safety pinned to the back of his hoodie with these words: Love is stronger.

Love is stronger.

The actions we take tomorrow, next month, next year will not undo the tragedy that has been inflicted on these individual souls, on their families, on our community and our nation. There will be many more tears. There will be years of recovery and struggle. There will be much sorrow and much need. And, by saying what I say here, I in no way mean to minimize the gravity and sadness that permeates all of this.

But, it seems to me that loving each other better, caring about each other more is the only answer. This will come out not only in our daily interactions but in the decisions we make collectively as a community and as a nation. I believe this kind of love is possible. I believe in its possibility because I have known too many stories, seen too many miracles, known too many people who demonstrate in their own way the decency and compassion and beauty and endurance of the human spirit.

For now, we can pray for the strength to love each other and that the ways we can do so will be shown to us all.

Sunday 1.9.11 at UMC, Tucson


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