Friday, May 3, 2013

Coming to terms with where I am


There are so many things going on right now.
  • The diet is on hold for at least another two weeks.
  • My wife had an ultrasound Friday. The baby looks great.
  • Friday was also the due date for a book chapter I had to write.
  • My wife’s mother just died, Tuesday, and the riskiness of my wife’s pregnancy, the distance between New Mexico where we live and Ohio where my wife’s mom lived and have made attending the funeral unwise.
  • Tuesday was also WNMU’s Academic Research Symposium was also Tuesday. This is always an amazing time. For me, the highlights were my own student’s group projects. The work they did in service to the community is amazing. Still, it was a lot of stress dealing the program and timeline leading up to it.
  • I attended the Kiwanis “Terrific Kids” dinner Wednesday night at which they honor the top students and a student of the year from each of the schools in the county (I think it is county; I know it is bigger than just in town).  Many of these kids have resumes that put the rest of us to shame.
  • Our landlord has agreed to switch the carpet in our room and the baby’s room to hardwood to reduce germs and allergies. Of course, this means moving everything out of those rooms so work can start. My wife has mostly been working on that, but every now and then she needs something big moved, or something taken apart or put back together.
  • The Tour de Gila, a pretty big annual event is in town, causing roads to be closed and traffic to be diverted. Getting to work cannot include normal habits of driving.
  • It is the end of the semester with all the insanity always associated with that: final grades due, student panicking, final writing, etc.
  • I’ve been playing a lot of Star Wars Angry Birds lately.
All of this is playing in my mind as I write and COME TO TERMS WITH WHERE I AM.

Silver City, NM is an amazing place:

I love Silver City, NM. Situated right on the edge of the Gila Wilderness and Gila National Forest, there is a beauty here that I can’t really describe. Amazing hikes, camping, fishing and natural beauty is a 10 minute drive in some cases. There are so many birds here that you almost need a degree in ornithology just to guess at the genus of half of them; forget about species, subspecies or color phases. The cactus, the juniper, the live oak and the yucca squeeze out a living on the 10 inches or less of rain which interrupts the 300 sunny days per year. 

A sign on the way into town from Deming says that we have “more than 30 art galleries.” That, I think, is modest. The arts community is alive and active here. The bars and coffee shops host live music and poetry readings. Huge festivals such as “Pickamania,” a folk and bluegrass music festival and “The Blues Festival” dot the community calendar. Bohemian hipsters and dirty dreadlocked dreamers create for the sake of creation and live for the moment downtown.
For a town with only 10,000 people, the public transit is amazing. A bus circles from the Walmart area, to downtown to the University every hour. For me, it’s free as a University employee. For others it is 75₵ for a single ride. Most people who use the bus often and are not affiliated with the University buy monthly passes, which are cheaper than this. People complain that the bus only comes once an hour, but I’ve never seen a town this size with that option at all.

There is a huge diversity of cultures. The ranch culture is very active and pickup trucks and cowboy hats with healthy, very clean and polished people calling you “sir” or “ma’am” and sometimes carrying side-arms is common. The traditional Hispanic culture is also a powerful presence. The radio switches back and forth between English and Spanish. The architecture reflects the best from northern Mexico. Events such as Dia de los Muerte fill the streets with laughter and music. Of course there is the arts culture mentioned above. There is also a very strong biker culture. Sometimes Harleys line the street downtown as the Buffalo Bar fills up with tattooed hoary beards. There is also student culture. Stopping into any of the 20 some coffee shops will display a few faces clad in purple t-shirts (the school colors are purple and gold, but mostly purple) scrunched over books or laptops multitasking studying with Facebook. The modest Mormons appear whenever there is something being sold in bulk. Their values of self-sufficiency and preparedness permeate the rest of us. Where else can you see all this diversity?

There is, of course, the college. There is never a single day that goes by that I am not proud to be working at Western New Mexico University. We are a college which is moving, improving and growing. Every single area where this school has a flaw, administration and faculty are aware of it and steps are being taken to understand and correct it. Since coming under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Shepard in 2011, it has been clear that we are on a mission. We are growing in numbers of students. We are growing in the quality of programs being offered. We are growing the students themselves into amazing, socially conscious, creative, critical and capable professionals. Yes, there are still flaws and problems here, but it is clear every day that we are working on them.

There is also a sense that liberty is valued here. There are few zoning restrictions or laws regarding personal behavior. People mind their own business and really try to stay out of each other’s private lives unless specifically invited. If I told people around here that I store horse manure in a closet at my house, some would ask why. Most people would wonder why I was telling them. No one would question whether or not I should do that if I want to. It’s my closet:  my business. That’s the type of liberty that is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and I’ve found few places where it is thoroughly practiced as well as the mountains of Southern New Mexico.

Silver City, NM is a terrible place:

On the other hand, there are some real problems here. Some are problems of the place, others are more personal problems.

The economy sucks. My wife is at work at McDonalds right now. To make both of our student loan payments, rent, etc. we both need professional jobs. I have mine because of the University. She does not have one. While unemployment is horrible nationally, and it is actually a bit better here in the last couple months than it is nationally, there is a long term trend of it being worse here (as I discovered using Google). The fact is that my college educated wife should not have to work at McDonalds. She should have a nice job in an office where she can stay off her feet while pregnant. Maybe this would be no better anywhere else, but unemployment here is bad.
Then there’re the drugs. I’ve never had anything against drugs, really. If an adult wants to destroy his or her body, let them. You use cocaine; I use donuts. I mean, I’ve never thought that recreational pharmaceuticals were a wise decision, but I always figured we all make unwise decisions and that laws and social judgments didn’t really help the matter. When I was in college and graduate school, many of my friends used some very hardcore drugs recreationally, and it didn’t really seem all that much worse to me than any other dangerous collegiate antics (iceblocking, gallon challenge, binge drinking, dilutional hyponatremia). I’ve never lived, however, where drugs were such a major part of everyday life. Fully half the population is somehow involved in the production, distribution or consumption of illicit substances. Marijuana is quite common, but the drug that seems to do the most damage is methamphetamine. Of course this leads to all kinds of health problems and poor decision making. Addicts engage in criminal activities in order to procure their predilection. Probably the biggest problem with drugs is the problems associated with any type of black market commodity. That is that those who violate the norms of the transaction cannot be held to account for their actions via normal legal recourse. Instead, extralegal means must be used. This means assaults, murders, etc.

This leads to another problem here: gang activity. Out here, in the middle of nowhere, really, there are gangs. Last January a guy from my church was hit in a drive-by. That’s right, A GUY FROM MY CHURCH. The gang culture is so prevalent here that it infiltrates even houses of worship and higher education. Students who come from outside the area to attend college find themselves embroiled in gang activity. Members of our police department often have gang affiliations and use their legitimate positions in order to protect their turf. This is not just rumor or conjecture. It is openly discussed.  There are ethnic Hispanic gangs. There are biker gangs. There are racist gangs. There are more ethnically diverse street gangs. These gangs are evident by their tags, cuts, tattoos and violence. Then there are the rumored gangs, or the rumored gang, really. This is certain members of the business establishment who not only maintain their monopoly to keep wages low and profits high and engage in intimidation to keep national chains and up and coming potential competitors.

So that leads to the fourth problem. There is “nothing to do.” Of course, there are tons of things to do: hiking, fishing, camping, hunting, art, festivals, dances, poetry, music. What’s lacking, however, when people say this is really two things: shopping and movies. The concentrated effort to keep others out has led a bit of a dull place sometimes. It has left little for people to do on a regular weekend, so they often do drugs. There are cute boutiques, but no regular stores. There are jewelry stores where a person can buy a $400 pair of earrings, but no “Claire’s” for instance. There are galleries where a person can get a $5000 painting, but nowhere, really, to get a poster. You can eat in fast food or upscale local restaurants, but there’s nothing comparable to, say, an Applebees or Red Lobster.  Finally, the closest movie theater is an hour away in a much smaller town without a local mafia controlling it, called Deming.

Beyond Deming, another hour is Las Cruces. It’s twice that distance to El Paso, which has the closest national airport. That is the level of isolation. To fly home for a funeral (as we’ve found out this week) is an undertaking that reaches the level of being basically impossible. Furthermore, there are no means of getting out there except driving yourself. I’ve live as far from a major airport before, but there have always been shuttles that will take you from the small towns to the big cities: not here. There have been attempts, but somehow, they’ve been thwarted. There is great public transportation in town for a town this size, but no way out if you need to go.

And that matters to us because we are so far physically from family. Jamie’s family is 1,800 miles away in Ohio. My family is about half that far in Nebraska. We can’t just hop a bus or a train or a plane to get out there. We just can’t go. It is enough to drive a person mad (by which I mean BOTH crazy and Angry).
So, I’m frustrated right now.

My wife is more frustrated for obvious reasons. She is also sad, angry and hurt. I wish there was something I could do to dull the pain, but there’s not. Way out here in the Southern Rockies, we’re too far out to do anything but cry.

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