11

Fresno. When I lived in southern California, we called Fresno the "armpit of California." I'd visited the city because my dad was giving a lecture and spending time with his sister and her family who used to live in Fresno. All I saw of Fresno back then was my Aunt Eloise's house and a Mormon church. When I had my interview in Fresno, my flight was canceled so I ended up spending less than 24 hours in the town. I didn't see much of Fresno, but I was quite sure that I didn't want to spend my life in small town Texas, that I wanted to be back west, back in California--so I accepted the job, packed up my things and moved to Fresno. I've lived here for 10 years now and, after a year in Norway, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to me to have made my home in Fresno.

Fresno is a city with an inferiority complex. The most common praise for the city is that it takes only 3 hours to drive to the Bay area, Los Angeles, the coast, national parks. Yeah, the best thing about Fresno is leaving it and going somewhere else. But I think Fresno has more to offer that that.

Let me use this weekend as an example. Thursday (I know, not technically the weekend, but I'm starting there), our former colleague Steve Yarbrough who left this year to teach at Emerson College in Boston was in town. He gave a reading on campus, and then many of us went to Connie and John Hales' house for a party. I arrived there at about 10 p.m. and the party was in full swing. I sat in the living room talking with Samina, John, Alex, Tanya, Linnea, Matthew, and others about the reading (which I had missed), about the Young Writers Conference, and about Fresno State's upcoming intersession in London. Living in Fresno has brought writers I hadn't heard of before into my consciousness, including my wonderful colleagues past and present: Steve, Alex Espinoza, David Anthony Durham, Liza Wieland, Connie, John, Steven Church, Tim Skeen, Ruth Schwartz, and Lillian Faderman (to be fair, I had heard of Lillian, a seminal theorist of lesbian history, before I arrived here). Last night, I went to a reading at Palominos with some local poets: Tim Hernandez, Mike Medrano, Marisol Baca, Lance Canales (I may be mis-remembering his name) and Connie. Mike mentioned Juan Felipe Herrera, who spent years here, and all the poets celebrated the local experience. Also last night, I went to Audie's Olympic where a local band, the Suppressors, performed, including a piece about the Marcus Wesson ska (an infamous local who fathered children with his children, many of whom were killed or committed suicide together). So, what's my point here? The Valley is a fertile place for creativity and self-expression. Locals and transplants both find inspiration in this agricultural, sometimes dysfunctional, but always interesting town. So, that's one reason I love Fresno.

Another reason I love Fresno is embedded in the previous paragraph: I have great friends here. Staying in Fresno as long as I have has allowed me to develop friendships over a long period of time. I've always made friends easily (a skill learned from moving around a lot), but the great thing about living somewhere so long is that I've had the chance to really find friends who stick, who I trust and love, who I hope will be in my life forever. These last few years in particular have been quite rich in terms of my friendships--and after a year away, I'm also making new friends and deepening relationships with people who have been in my life for years. I appreciate the openness of people here--it feels easy to socialize with old friends and new. Friday night, John and John invited Tanya and I over for game night and dinner. John, a fantastic cook, made a cheese souffle, sauteed green beans, salad, and roasted potatoes. It was all so good. We also played Scrabble. John B. won, as he always does, and, even though I get rather competitive with games, I still was so happy to lose . . . because it meant I was hanging out with people who are really important to me. . . . oh, and because I love playing Scrabble and I don't get to do it enough. Last night, Kristie and I met in the Tower district: we went to the aforementioned poetry reading at Palominos, ate dinner at Veni, Vidi, Vici's, saw the Suppressors at Audie's, and hung out at Livingstone's until about 1:15 a.m. Kristie and I have known each other for years, but in some ways, she feels like a new friend, new because we're getting to know each other better. We laughed a lot and I had so much fun jumping from one place to the next in the Tower. So, yeah, there are amazing, wonderful people who live in Fresno, and I'm lucky to count so many as my friends. I think Fresno's inferiority complex adds to the sense that people who are interested in the arts want to stick together, to support Fresno's efforts to celebrate the arts, and to take advantage of the cultural opportunities that Fresno offers. I can go to events by myself and encounter people I know, even though Fresno has a population of almost a half million people. Sometimes, Fresno feels like a small town that way.

This morning, I slept in late, skipped my morning walk (which is another thing I love about Fresno, walking around the Fresno High/Fig Garden area), mowed my lawn, trimmed some trees/bushes, and picked up fallen fruit in my backyard. I love my house--it's comfortable, pretty (at least I think it is), and homey. It was built in about 1945 and is in an established neighborhood with quiet, tree-lined streets, friendly neighbors, and beautiful yards. I'm grateful that my job has given me financial security, allowing me to be a home owner in such a charming neighborhood. I don't know if I would have ever been able to afford a home if I'd stayed in Huntington Beach.

Recently, a friend posted a great Facebook update: "John Jordan loves Fresno--maybe for no good reason, but he does." Many of us agreed--and some posted good reasons why. I guess this blog entry illustrates some of the reasons that I love Fresno.


On Thursday, I attended one of the events commemorating the Fresno Feminist Art Movement. In 1970, Judy Chicago, whose collaborative work "The Dinner Party" is one of the most important feminist art pieces, taught for a year at what was then Fresno State College. 15 students studied art in a collaborative setting, resisting the "genius who works alone" model that is such a prevalent practice in art. Many of these students followed Chicago to Cal Arts to continue their studies . . . and many have made their career in art.

The first presentation I attended was by Vanalyne Green. Green's current project focuses on "provisional moments of utopia"--she has interviewed the chaplains for both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate . . . and she has interviewed people about which days' prayers they would like to read. She also went to a cemetery in Chicago where different Wobblies and activists are buried under strident and still confrontational gravestones. It was a fascinating presentation.

Nancy Youdelman began as a costume designer and has continued to create art using dresses. Especially interesting was her work incorporating letters written by 30 different women to one man, Allen Watkins. Youdelman talked about how they share a narrative arc: love, insecurity about why the man hasn't responded, and finally anger. I love that she uses materials bought on e-Bay in her work. Youdelman also showed pictures and told stories about "A Studio of Their Own," the Fresno State studio where she worked with Judy Chicago.

Both these women made me think about artistic production--using non-traditional forms and materials to produce thoughtful responses to the world. I love what YouTube has done to expose the work that even amateurs do to pay homage to or even parody the contemporary world. I love the use of found objects in all kinds of artistic production. I love texts that experiment with how to tell a story. I love that all kinds of creativity have expression right now.

Make it new!

2

Last year, I realized that I was seeing more of Norway than I had of even the state I lived in--and I vowed to explore California when I returned. So far, I've stayed true to that goal.

Just a few weeks after I returned, I traveled to San Francisco with my friend Lixian. Okay, that doesn't really count in some ways because I go to San Francisco several times a year. Still, Lixian and I went to neighborhoods I hadn't visited for quite awhile. We really loved exploring the Haight area; my favorite thing there was shopping at a thrift store, buying a pair of $7 jeans that I put on immediately because I was sooooo cold (when in the Fresno heat, I have a hard time believing I'll be cold anywhere else, so I packed inappropriately). We also spent a few hours in the Beat Museum near City Lights. I'd never been to that museum before, and I really loved seeing the pictures, artifacts, and explanations of the Beat era.

Kathee and Lixian at Ideale Restaurant
Kathee and Lixian at Ideale Restaurant

On another weekend, I went hiking in Sequoia National Park with my friends John and Alex. John promised an easy hike; instead, we hiked to the top of Moro Rock.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park
Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

The view was spectacular from the top--we could see the impressive Great Western Divide where John hiked the following week. I was glad I'd overcome my fear of heights to go to the top, and John kindly helped me hike down in the places where there was too much view and not enough space on the path.

The Great Western Divide, Sequoia National Park
The Great Western Divide, Sequoia National Park

Another weekend, my neighbor Lori and I traveled to California's central coast. We drove through Morro Bay and walked on the foggy beach at Cayucas.

Beach, Cayucas
Beach, Cayucas

After a yummy lunch in Cambria, we drove to the sun-drenched, windy Elephant Seal Beach, named after the enormous seals that hang out there.

Elephant Seal Beach
Elephant Seal Beach

I've loved California beaches since before I lived in Huntington Beach way back when, so I'm always happy to be back by the ocean. And this drive was such an easy one. Lori and I plan to return soon.

Today, my friend Lin and her son Jason were visiting. My house isn't well equipped for kids, so we decided to go to Chaffee Zoo today. I'm embarrassed to admit that in the 10 years I've been in Fresno, I've never visited the zoo. We really enjoyed the day there--although I always feel sorry for the animals trapped in zoos, Chaffee tries to create inviting natural environments for its animals.

Elephant, Chaffee Zoo

But my favorite part of the zoo was going to the Winged Wonders Bird Show. This show was choreographed carefully instead of relying on clipped wings to control the birds (rather, the zoo attendants gave treats to the birds when they flew to the correct spots). Birds swooped just over our heads as they moved from an enclosure and a tall tree to spots scattered throughout the amphitheater. The narrators of the event, Rhonda and Chris, were funny and ad-libbed when necessary--e.g., when the macaw wanted to do his own thing instead of flying to Chris and showing off his vocal prowess. I loved seeing the horned owl, watching the emu strut its stuff, and hearing the parrots talk and sing. It was such an enjoyable show.

Emu, Chaffee Zoo

Horned Owl

I've enjoyed seeing new parts of California--and there's more of the state I want to see. I still haven't ever been north of San Francisco, so I have the whole upper half of the state to explore. And I hope to have different experiences in each place I visit. More hiking, yes, but I'd also love to eat at some of California's great restaurants, do some kind of a retreat in a more rural area, or ???. I need more ideas.

This year, I plan to try many new things. I want to make sure that my year isn't anti-climatic after the excitement of Norway.

2

The autumn leaves . . . .
drift by my windows . . .
the autumn leaves . . .
of red and gold . . .

That's the beginning of a melancholy song I learned to play on the ukulele in 6th grade. The song devolves into a meditation on how much the singer/writer misses his lost love. Sigh. Sap.

I love that Fresno actually has fall. The leaves ARE turning red and gold. Every year, I look forward to watching the leaves on three trees in the parking lot near my office. Two of the trees get dark red leaves. The other one, a Chinese Pistache, has leaves that turn bright red. The trees remind me of the magic of autumn in which everything changes: color, weather, trees. Soon, the trees will acquire a different beauty (one associated with bare branches juxtaposed against stormy skies), but now they are a gorgeous tribute to a season that I missed during my Arizona years.

Yesterday I attended the Tamejavi Festival with my friend Samina and her two children Maya and Cyrus. According to the Tamejavi website, "Tamejavi is a word meaning 'cultural market' whose origin is in the concept of 'plaza' or place of exchange. It is derived from the Hmong and Lao TAj laj Puam, the Spanish MErcado, and the Mixtec nunJAVI." Each year, this educational event creates an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of the many immigrants who have made their homes in the Central Valley.

I blogged about the food we ate there on Cakeypal's Savory Morsels, so here I'll blog about the children's dance performances. The program began with a group of Persian dancers. I enjoyed witnessing the cultural pride they displayed as they shimmied and twirled . . . it was also fun to see parents and grandparents beaming with pride. Another group performed traditional dance moves to more contemporary Hmong pop music. These little ones were so cute with their synchronized moves and shy smiles. Although the M.C. commented on his own "Asian bling-bling," the girls' outfits were also charming.

Two young couples danced a Oaxacan number and then all the performers gathered on stage. After brief comments from Fresno City Councilmember, Blong Xiong, the group sang "This Land Is Your Land" led by the Mujeres Valiantes. The Woody Guthrie song took on new meaning for me in this context; it celebrated the immigrants whose descendants make up much of the American population. The Mujeres Valiantes sang another number on their own, "Brown Eyed Children."

While we wandered around Radio Park looking at art and waiting in line for the Time Tunnel, Armenian and Filipino dancers took the stage. I walked towards my car to the tunes of those displaced by the Dust Bowl. The crowd yesterday was fairly sparse--I hope that this event continues to grow. It is a unique Fresno celebration which represents and honors the rich traditions of the Central Valley.

2

For the last couple of weeks, I've been in Athens, Ohio visiting my boyfriend. Athens is a nice place: a small college town with a pretty campus, a great bike/walking path by the Hocking River, nice people, and good food. Being here, though, I've thought about where I've lived for the last 8 years--and the fact that, much to my surprise, Fresno is where I've actually put down roots for the first time as an adult. When I leave Athens soon, there are a lot of things I'll miss, but I'll also be glad to be home.

Things I love about Fresno (in no particular order):

1. My morning walk along Van Ness and the landmarks along the way: the houses I wanted to buy, the canal where I sometimes see egrets and ducks, the people I say hello to each morning.

2. The view from my bedroom window out of which I can see my 18 fruit trees, the red brick patio, and my grape/wisteria arbor. In all four seasons, I feel a sense of well being when I look out that window.

3. My bookshelves at my office: the rest of the office is in need of serious organization, but I love the colors of my books and the fact that so many of them have fed me emotionally and intellectually. They make my office a happy place to be.

4. The Tower District: good restaurants (I wish I could eat at Senses once a week), Fresno Filmworks in the Tower Theater, the Chicken Pie Shop's green vinyl benches, the unique stores (read: they aren't chains!), and the twinkly lights in the trees.

5. Anywhere my friends are: I feel lucky to have so many people I care about who also care about me.

6. The Farmer's Markets: one of the things that makes hot Fresno summers bearable is the abundance of fresh fruit and veggies available.

7. The courtyard at Arte Americas with its great series of outdoor concerts during the summer. I love sitting under the stars and hearing mariachi music or ska (okay, I don't sit when it's a ska night, I dance). The stars come out and the music echoes off the nearby buildings.

8. All the places I can drive within 3 hours: like everyone else in Fresno, I love that I can leave occasionally and be in San Francisco, Yosemite, L.A., the coast, or the mountains within 3 hours.

9. Downtown: the public library, Fulton Mall, Potters' Studio, the Water Tower, Chinatown, even the baseball stadium. Downtown is quirky and quiet and economically depressed, but the lovely buildings remind me of a time when downtown was vibrant. I still hope that Fresno's downtown can be revitalized.

Fresno Water Tower 1996

10. Since I'm at #10 and there's still so much more to say, I'm going to cheat and say that I love the recurring events in Fresno: the Rogue Performance Festival, Vintage Days at Fresno State, Jamaica My Weekend, Mardi Gras, Christmas Tree Lane, and Summer Arts are just a few of the events that I look forward to.

All these things and more have contributed to my well being. I may post sometime in the future about the things that make Fresno less livable, but, for now, Fresno is home.