hitting the road

Book promotion is intense. Book promotion during a global pandemic, largely without childcare, on top of paid work and amid other multiple crises (climate, racial/colonial, democratic) is fucking nuts and also feels…wrong? to some extent. Also, if you have any kind of social anxiety or introversion, book marketing feels kinda awful. It’s funny. I once thought “writing” meant finishing something. Eventually I realized that “writing” meant the responsibility not only to finish something but to share it with the world, to make it public. But then once you do share something, you realize “writing” also encompasses this whole other realm of work, beyond drafting and revising and even submitting, this industrial or business or busy-ness realm of meta-work, which consists of telling people you’ve shared something and why. (Here’s where my socially anxious brain screams: Isn’t it enough to put something out there? Do I really have to let people know I’ve put something out there??)

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Brush Day

Remember what a tragedy it was when you were growing up–a kid, a teenager, maybe even a young adult–and your good friend moved away? Here’s a wistful song one of those friends put on a tape for me after he moved, called “Keeping the Weekend Free” by a band called Liquorice, which had that mid-90s lo-fi sound that so many bands I jizzed over back then did (*cough* Pavement *cough*). So much of that lo-fi indie music I learned about from white friends with older siblings, because back then, before the internet, older siblings were major sources of subcultural coolness. 

Anyway, for whatever reason, found this song lodged in my head this weekend while dragging about ten years of brush to the curb. Monday is brush day and code compliance is after us for our unruly yard full of lizard habitat. And while I dragged it out, I found myself thinking about the many small gestures mentioned in the song, which, after the passing of the landline, have become technologically obsolete—long distance, charges getting reversed, hanging up in anger, busy signals, having to stick around the house if you’re desperate to get a call. Asra and I were at a boba tea place recently that decorates in an antique telephone motif, and as we played around with a rotary dialer, I reflected on how immense a cultural loss it is to be unable to slam a phone down in anger. What other gesture so succinctly expresses such a depth of betrayal or anguish?

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earth day-ish radio interview

When I got an invitation to appear as a guest on “No Alibis,” a radio program on UC Santa Barbara’s KCSB, I was nervous. I’m not good at extemporaneous speaking, or at least that’s how it feels from the inside. My go-to tactic in public speaking situations is usually to overprepare, which can be exhausting…but this time I didn’t have time or any questions in advance to prepare. So instead I decided to just trust myself (aka winging it). And it was such a great conversation, in large part because hosts Marisela Marquez and Elizabeth Robinson asked such interesting, thoughtful questions–from the beginning of my involvement with environmental justice work in San Antonio to the meaning of “deceleration” to the transition in my own life from poetry to academia to organizing back again to poetry and fiction.

Here’s the whole show. My segment starts at 20:33, but I’ve included the full broadcast because the second segment–an interview with UCSB Global Studies professor Charmaine Chua and UCLA musicologist Shana Redmond on abolition and the Cops Off Campus Coalition–is so critical right now and always.

Sod Bustin’

Over the weekend I was lucky to attend an online award ceremony organized by the Texas Institute of Letters for winners of their annual literary prizes. I was honored to have Luz recognized, and also grateful the award winners didn’t have to read or speak since I was running a fever, having gotten my second COVID shot the day before. Only the TIL’s newly inducted members read—Cristina Rivera Garza live, and then George Saunders and a singer/songwriter named Michael Martin Murphy via prerecorded videos. I was surprised, then delighted, when I realized that I knew who MMM was: as a kid I’d really liked a song of his called “Wildfire,” about a horse and a girl who died. I was even more surprised and delighted when he proceeded to play an acoustic version of that song for the ceremony. After, he talked a little about where the idea for it had come from—a dream he’d had, he said, possibly linked to stories his grandfather would tell.

I thought about the song all the next day. I’m still thinking about it. Do you know it? “Wildfire” is a song from the 1970s, just a little before my time, but I heard it because every night I would fall asleep to a San Antonio station called KQXT, which played soft whitebread music, instrumentals and easy listening from the 60s and 70s. My parents had tuned my clock radio to that station, setting it so it would play for an hour and shut itself off. They figured the music would relax me, but I’d stay up listening intently to Burt Bacharach, the Carpenters, Herb Alpert, Gordon Lightfoot, that “Send in the Clowns” song, the weird-as-hell lounge cheese of “Muskrat Love”…and then “Wildfire,” whose chorus always made me want to cry, though I didn’t fully grasp the story at the time. A few years ago, I revisited the song as an adult, and it was as musically beautiful and emotionally powerful as I’d remembered it…tho it also surprised me that what had seemed like the climax (“oh they say she died one winter / when there came an early snow / and the pony she named Wildfire / busted down his stall”) happened in the first stanza. As a kid I’d thought the song was about the love between a girl and her pony; when the girl tragically died at the end (possibly thrown in a pony accident?), the pony grew so guilt- and grief-stricken it busted down its stall and ran away. But no, the final verse was about…leaving sod bustin’ behind? 

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Words for Birds

Deceleration inherited this event a couple years back from a fellow ecowriter here in SATX (the fabulous Mobi Warren if you wanna know!). Usually it’s an outdoor reading held in high spring at a former sludge lagoon turned wildlife refuge and birding site, but last year COVID forced us to reimagine it as a zine. This year we’re doing an online reading, which allows us to open up the event to readers and viewers outside of San Antonio. One of my priorities for W4B has been to link it more deeply to local and global movements for environmental justice, and I’m really excited that this year’s call for readers has brought in so many new voices.

Okay, here’s the basic info…more detailed info on readers and how to tune in can be found HERE.

¡Mega Corazón Rides Again!

Puro silliness. Still, these Whataburger poems shoulda won.

About a year ago, one of the earliest signs for working artists that we were living in a changed world was the almost wholesale cancellation of San Antonio’s usually overflowing calendar of National Poetry Month events. One of the few exceptions was URBAN-15’s Mega Corazón, a marathon broadcast of South Texas spoken word that survived by virtue of its already-online format.

Still, even Mega Corazón had to scramble to figure out how to film readings without bringing poets physically into URBAN-15’s online broadcast studio, and the solution it came up with was to have poets record themselves reading and then stitch these recordings together into a pastiche of nonstop poesis. While rougher around the edges, these little poetry home videos—shot from living rooms and on cell phones—in many ways had a poignancy and intimacy unmatched by the more polished production of previous years.

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Fieldnotes from a Mass Vaccination Site

Image: KENS 5

They plopped the Alamodome down right smack between the highway and the train tracks, so every couple hours the soundscape shatters, the massive horn of a slow moving rail convoy blasting the air apart. I briefly lived in the neighborhood just south of here, on the access road of the highway, and I must have gotten used to the trains like they say you do, because I don’t remember ever losing sleep as they passed. 

It’s definitely annoying if you’re mid-conversation, but mostly we don’t small talk with the people rolling by inside their cars. Mostly it’s business. Asking for ID and checking their names off a list, or inspecting their paperwork to make sure every yellow highlighted section has been filled in. Most everyone is masked, but more than a few are unmasked, absentmindedly or perhaps defiantly in the wake of the governor’s repeal of the mask mandate. I’m double-masked and standing outside in wind as wild as Gulf Coast beaches, so I’m not too concerned about itbut if I could do it again I think I’d ask those unmasked to cover their faces before I checked them in.

We do have a few surprise exchanges:

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Luz Takes Official Wing Next Fri, March 5

On Friday, March 5 at 6pm CST, join FlowerSong Press in celebrating the official release of Luz at Midnight! As y’all know, Luz tells a climate change story unique to South Texas—belly of the beast for boom-and-bust extraction—challenging regional histories of environmental injustice while weaving a universal story of love and longing. Arts writer Nicholas Frank recently wrote in The San Antonio Report that the novel has proved “eerily prescient” in its depiction of the rolling blackouts that have recently rocked the state.

The launch event will tell the story of Luz via selected readings from the novel as well as conversation with/readings from four comadres (Kamala Platt, Mobi Warren, Davíd Zamora Casas, and Viktoria Valenzuela) who helped give the book its final shape and bring it into the world.

Launch will happen online via Zoom: click HERE to attend.

ALSO! RAFFLE ALERT! Cuz it’s fun: between February 20 and the end of the reading, if you purchase a copy of Luz from FlowerSong, we’ll enter your name into a drawing for a chance to win prizes! Books can be purchased HERE. To learn more about the book and view the trailer, visit https://mcortez.net/luz/

Here are the deets in superconcentrated visual form, with thanks to Jo Reyes-Boitel and the FlowerSong familia:

weird parallels, synchronicities, resonances (aka life imitating art imitating life)

it looks nice, but it’s not supposed to do this here

In the past week, a couple of the environmental subplots in my book (Luz at Midnight) have leaped from page to real life here in South Texas. And I’ve been stuck inside, even more deeply inside than I have been for the past year’s pandemic–the four of us confined not just to the house but to one room of the house to maximize the power of three space heaterswith nothing else to do than to reflect on the weirdness of it all. It’s kinda freaky, until I remember that I crafted those subplots based on what I imagined to be the most plausible scenarios for climate disruption in this part of the planet, based on historical patterns to date. So it makes sense. But then it quickly goes back to being freaky.

The first and most obvious, of course, is the polar vortex that has dipped down into Texas to knock us flat on our unaccustomed asses for a week, tripping rolling blackouts across the state. Here’s a passage from one of the early chapters of the book, when I’m setting up the widest stakes of the climate change subplot:

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