Requiem for an Artist

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Funny how my heart has softened regarding the injury and subsequent death of Aaron Vigil.

When I first set out to blog about the severe electric shock he received while tagging a PNM substation, I was mad. Indignant. Felt the kid got what he deserved. Wondered how he could be so stupid.

But even as I typed, my thoughts softened. I wondered about this kid. Hoped he would recover and become something better, smarter.

Sadly that’s not to be. Young Aaron died Friday morning.

And still I’m left wondering.

Today’s ABQjournal article “Tagger Called Quiet, Artistic” tells us a bit more about this young man.

Contrary to the profile that I assumed must be the case, both mom and dad are in his life, still married, care a whole lot about their son, and are devastated at the loss.

His parents describe him as “artistic” and that artistry runs in the family. They describe him as saying “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” to hospital staff. They describe him as a wildly creative kid who would draw and paint and sketch.

By all accounts from this profile, he was a good kid.

So what leads a good kid to climb a fence to tag a power station thus ending a short life?

This story troubles me. I don’t know why, but I’ve taken it probably a little too much to heart.

I know a little about being tortured by my art. By being plagued by thoughts and ideas until I *had* to get them out on canvas, on watercolor paper, on film, or most often, in a fresh new Word document.

And I’ve done unconventional things in my art. Used unconventional media. I get that.

“Family members say they weren’t aware of Aaron’s tagging, which they prefer to call art.”

I can’t. I know that many taggers are amazing artists, but maybe it’s my too conservative upbringing. I can’t call vandalism art. Or maybe I can in some cases, but he climbed up there to write his nickname. A classic tagger gang-style thing to do. The article doesn’t mention any gang ties. Maybe he wasn’t affiliated. The article says he was with two other people who haven’t been identified and haven’t come forward. Maybe they pushed him into it?

I don’t know. I’m troubled. And saddened.

Somehow we let this kid down. I can’t chalk it up to “a dumb mistake”. I’ve made lots of dumb mistakes. There is more there, more to know.

If this kid had been given more room to channel his art, would that have changed things?

Somehow I doubt it. There is some piece of this story I’m missing. Some reason I may never know.

For now, I’m saddened for this child, saddened for the parents who lost their child, and hoping someday this makes sense.

And I need to go deep inside to better understand why this troubles me so……

In memoriam….

Poor Little Rich Kid….

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The Albuquerque Tribune today reporting on a story about the actor Freddie Prinze Jr. Seems this young man has a little *attitude* about his years growing up in Albuquerque.

Says he was scared. Says it was “the gang capital of the world”.

Hey, I’m not disagreeing. Albuquerque has a gang problem, no two ways about it. They have since *I* was in school back in the 80’s (Prinze granduated in 1994).

What torqued me enough to write this blog is that poor scared little Freddie…..went to La Cueva.

I have bad feelings about La Cueva. That school opened back when I was in high school. It opened waaaay up there on the east side where the rich people live. It opened to cater to the rich kids. It drew away most of the good teachers from my decidedly middle class school. It drew a lot of kids away too because parents scrambled to get their kids into the upper class school. And because schools draw their money from the tax base of the surrounding community, that school itself had money. More money than most of the rest of the high schools.

And to this day, that burns me a little.

I went to Del Norte. Back then it was middle class. Now I hear it’s descended into the madness of gangs as well.

I’m sure that Mr. Prinze felt some impact of the gang problem in Albuquerque, certainly. But I’m telling you, the bigger problem they have at La Cueva is all the rich kids have ready access to drugs. When I was in school drugs were a HUGE problem at La Cueva. Mine too, of course, but less so because we hardly had enough money for school let alone drugs.

Mr. Prinze might have tried Valley High. My best friend in high school went there for a while. The gang violence was so out of control there her folks had to move her to Del Norte out of fear for her safety. Mr. Prinze probably saw nothing like she saw at his rich white kid school.

The article says that Mr. Prinze’s bio lists that he also went to Eldorado and Sandia. Ok, before La Cueva, all the rich kids either went to Eldorado or Sandia.

So all this leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Yes, Mr. Prinze, Albuquerque has a gang problem that Mayor Marty likes to think he’s dealing with. The gang problem is difficult to address, and as I said a couple days back, as long as New Mexico is a prime channel for running drugs across the Mexican border, there will always be gangs.

But here’s the thing….I think celebrities have the obligation to try to occasionally use their celebrity for good.

Mr. Prinze could bring up the reasons he chose to leave our fair city, bring attention to problems, without trashing Albuquerque in the press.

I guess I know my city is flawed. And I guess I can call it a mess. But heaven help the outsider who calls my fine City a mess.

The article says, “The bio on his Web site talks of a ‘tumultuous’ childhood peopled with peers who ‘enjoyed bringing others down.'” Is that Albuquerque’s fault you ran with a bad crowd? Take some personal responsibility, young man. I know you had a troubled youth. Knowing your father committed suicide is tough for any kid, but doesn’t excuse bad behavior.

Meanwhile, Mayor Marty has invited him back to “visit”. Says it’s not the same place of his youth. No, it’s not. But unlike the Mayor, I invite Mr. Prinze to get bent.

To borrow heavily and paraphrase from a fave episode of “Sex and the City”…

No one talks sh*t about my town……

Are we losing them?

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Yeah, so let me be upfront. I’m not a parent. I have grand respect for those who are. It’s a major sacrifice, albeit for a fulfilling reason. My best friend is mom to my two godchildren. My sister is mom to my two nephews. I love those four children more than I ever knew I was capable of loving any thing living or otherwise. I would physically hurt anybody who ever hurt any of those kids. So maybe I’m not a parent, but I “get it”. Like what I feel, but on major steroids.

So yesterday I wrote about an 18 year old kid who did something unthinkably stupid, almost losing his life in the process.

I started out writing planning a scathing evisceration of the child and his stupidity, but as I wrote, sympathy creeped in. I started to feel sad for the kid. Wondered about his parents, where were they in his life? I’ve known folks who were great parents who still had a kid gone wrong, but that’s more of an exception. I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of parents in a kid’s life. And how hard it is to be a good parent, how even the best make mistakes.

So I became real saddened to read an article in today’s Las Cruces Sun News titled “Teen drinks herself into a coma”.

Another case of a kid doing something unthinkably stupid. This petite 5’1″ girl was found with a blood alcohol content of .50. No, not a mistype. Legal limit is .08. Hers was .50.

She’s fifteen.

She didn’t die, which is amazing, but was thrown into a coma. Unsure yet what the long term damage will be to a still developing girl. For now, thankful she’s alive.

So it gives me pause….are more kids finding trouble these days, or is the news just reporting it more? Because from where I’m sitting I think we’re losing the battle to keep our kids safe and sane. It may be media hype getting me all riled up, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I can go to school every single day with those four beautiful children I adore but I still can’t keep them safe. And maybe my goddaughter makes good choices but her friends don’t. What then?

I know these are the things that keep parents up at night. These are the things that keep Niña Karen up at night, now, too.

My thoughts to the family of that young girl in Las Cruces. Much like I said yesterday, I hope as she lays there recovering she has some deep, serious thoughts about the trajectory of her life…..

And for the second day in a row, I opine that you can learn from your unthinkably stupid mistakes, or you can be doomed to keep going down that road.

Meanwhile, I want to hug all my godkids a lot right now. You think my boss would let me out of work early for that?

Hello? Yes…karma? Oh….

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….it’s for you….

The ABQjournal had a small story today about a young man, 18 actually, who suffered terrible burns over 60 to 80 percent of his body…from electrocution.

“Oh my gosh!” you might gasp at this news, “how terrible!”

Yes it is, it’s terrible. It’s a terrible accident to happen to such a young man.

How could this have happened?

Seems the young man hopped a 15-foot fence topped with concertina wire in northwest Santa Fe.

So that he could tag a PNM transformer.

You know? Electricity?

Took his metal can of spray paint up there.

“The jolt blew all the clothes off the young man” reports the article.

Thankfully the kid was airlifted to a hospital where it appears he’ll recover.

So? What is the cost of being hip? Of marking your territory? Or showing off for your friends?

Certainly not your own young life, right?

My thoughts go out to this kid. I hope as he lays there healing he has some time to think about things…about the trajectory of his life.

After something like this…you can go two ways….you learn from it, or you ignore it and keep doing whatcher doing. It’s all up to you………

Viva los libros!

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I’m a fan of books, I just am. I have to say that The Flamenco Academy (chronicled here a few days back) has really fired me up lately. I haven’t read a book in a long while that made me feel like there is hope for popular fiction. And that a book set in New Mexico was so well done makes me double happy.

So I know this has been covered plenty of places elsewhere, but here’s my top five list of the best works of New Mexico fiction. These are just the ones that are in my opinion, the books I read that make me proud to be a New Mexican.

Without further ado (in no particular order):

1) Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford

This is a quintessential read for anyone living in New Mexico. It ranks not just as one of my fave NM books, but one of my fave books of all time. The main character, Josh is brought from Alabama to New Mexico by his parents and is introduced to the clannish people of Northern New Mexico including the bully Chango. The scene where he and his buddy get liquored up remains a classic. I almost always quote from it when I, myself, tie one on. A classic, truly. And an easy choice for the list.

2) Bless me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

One of those books that gave me a wry smile as I read it. One of those where you nod as you read, thinking “yeah, that’s familiar”. Anaya is a beautiful writer and it is an honor to be a fellow New Mexican with a man of his caliber. This coming of age story is a nice contrast of old vs new, how Hispanic culture rolls into American culture in a way that is beautifully unique to New Mexico. It’s lyrical in the storytelling and a must read.

3) The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols

Yeah. This had to be here. You know it did. When I’m homesick I put on the movie to see the land as much as anything. It’s a salve for my soul, always. The book was a little tough for me to get through, but worth the effort. It really captures the feeling of that time in New Mexico in the 1970’s. It always takes me right back to that time, effortlessly.

4) Cavern by Jake Page

A thriller about a group of spelunkers who explore a hidden cavern and discover a near extinct species of bear…who is none to happy to be bothered. Not a particularly great novel by most standards, but it does speak to a bunch of interesting things including a fairly detailed explanation about how the caverns, including Carlsbad Caverns, were formed. Both my parents worked for a while at the WIPP site, so this book also showed the ongoing battle of all the government agencies involved out there. DOE, Environmental groups, BLM and private interests do war daily and there is some discussion of WIPP in the book and how it may affect things in that geographic area. My mom turned me on to this book and laughed at how true to life some parts of the book were portrayed. Working at WIPP left her a bit…scarred…so it was good for her to see it in print, sort of validating. For me, it was a fascinating read and name checked a lot of places I know from living in Carlsbad, including some truly dive bars (including one frequented by miners, ranchers, roughnecks and college kids. They stopped serving beer in bottles because there had been too many fights. But on a good night, the dancing was unbeatable).

5) Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry

Ok, not technically a New Mexico book but about a New Mexico legend (Feh to the Texas town that claims ownership. FEH! I say!) and certainly New Mexico figures into the story. I am a massive fan of McMurtry and this is my favorite of all his books. He portrays Billy as a young, impulsive, spoiled, petulant brat. It’s fabulous. To me it was a fresh look at an old legend and to do that takes talent that Mr. McMurtry has in spades.

You’ll note my list is strangely devoid of Hillerman books. I’m actually not a fan. My mom is an avid reader of his stuff. I am not. : shrug : I’ve got no issues with Hillerman, it’s just not my taste.

Lois Duncan is another author I’m proud to know is New Mexican. As a kid I avidly read all her stuff. Loved her writing and always got geeked out when we saw her at the Coronado Club at Kirtland Airforce Base. My mom would always point her out. Her husband worked at Sandia Labs like my dad so she’d wait there (like we did) for her husband to get off work. Those were fun sunny summer days as a family. For some odd reason I associate Duncan with that time in my life.

I know there are probably a bunch of good choices I’m missing, but for now, that’s my list. I reserve the right to add, delete and change the list as we go.