The Renewing Power of Words -- and of Men's Lives

I apologize to all my blogger friends for not writing something for more than two weeks. Although I’m busy all the time, I love communicating my thoughts and activities through my blog posts, knowing there is an appreciative and growing readership among you. Thank you all for being out there for me and my work.

My absence was largely due to my participation in two major conferences – The Macondo Writers Workshop in San Antonio from August 6 to August 13. And my annual job as a teacher at the Mosaic Foundation’s Men’s Conference at the Woodlands Camp in Mendocino, CA. from August 14 to August 20.

The Macondo Writers Worshop is a unique, remarkable, and giving community of writers, founded by my friend and fellow poet/story teller Sandra Cisneros. This year it was based at Our Lady of the Lake University, which helped with dorms and meetings rooms (bed & breakfast establishments, hotels, and other spaces were also utilized). This year, I was one of the workshop facilitators (I had eight writers for four days of workshops). I also was the featured reader at the Jump Start Theater’s annual Macondo event that featured a theme of “Suavecito” -- with a lowrider club (thanks to La Familia) and their “ranflas,” aerosol spray art, and lowrider bikes hanging from the ceiling.

A special performance from the resident Jump Start Theater group of my anti-war poems “Nightfall: Poems to Ponder in Times of Uncertainty and War” blew me away – I was practically in tears hearing back my words from the myriad voices involved in the performance. It was also an honor to be accompanied by Chicano actor Jesse Borrego, who read a poem by the late Trinidad Sanchez; Levi Romero of Albuquerque, New Mexico, reading his street/barrio/lowrider poems; and the powerful presence of Sandra Cisneros, reading an excerpt from her recent novel, Caramelo. It was a packed house that later expanded into a party (I danced a good part of the night away, assisted by the knowledge I can enjoy myself without the booze).

I hope to return to Macondo as a teacher, as a participant, or just to write as much as I can. The community is generous and filled with Sandra’s loving spirit and her vision of community engagement through the arts (I also thank Sandra for lending me her friend Reza, originally from Iran and a former Olympic wrestler, for a massage and vital advice on nutrition and exercise – I sure needed this).

I flew from San Antonio to Oakland on August 13, where I hooked up with my compadre Tony Prince – best friend and fellow revolutionary. He is a lawyer, working for a large public employee union. I’m also godfather to his two daughters (he’s godfather to my oldest son, Ramiro). Ramiro still calls him Nino Tony. As usual we talked about life, politics, spirit, writing, change, and almost all topics under the sun. As usual we practically resolved the world’s problems. Unfortunately, we end up going our separate ways, back to the realities in which our ideas and issues must find ground and meaning (or get crushed).

Tony drove me the almost four hours from Berkeley, where he lives, up the coast to Mendocino. For the first time, I found myself showing up early to this men’s gathering – only one other person was there. I have been doing these events for twelve years as a teacher, under the invitation of renowned mythologist and storyteller, Michael Meade, founder and visionary behind Mosaic. The organization is well known for intense soul-work and community building among the disaffected, abandoned, traumatized, and forgotten members of our society. This includes vital interactions with indigenous communities, barrio/ghetto youth, homeless youth, refugees (from Sudan and other countries), and prisoners.

The men’s conference is one of the few renewing touchstones in my life – despite the struggles, teachings, heartaches, rages, and sorrows involved. Last year, we lost two of our participants when their car fell into the Navarro River on their way to the conference (Elegba “Legs” Earl and Joe Ranft: may they rest in peace). There was much work to be done to cleanse and coalesce from this tragedy.

This year’s conference was called “Seeking Spirit, Making Soul: The Road of Wounds and Gifts.” The main five teachers in these events were together at once for this one – something we had not done in years. Besides myself, the teachers were Michael Meade, Orland Bishop (community healer and spiritual practitioner), Malidome Some (an initiated West African elder/shaman), and Jack Kornfield (one of the leading American Buddhists, founder of Spirit Rock in the Bay Area). I must say this was a privilege for all of us – working together to deepen the conversations about men’s rage as well as race, class, war, gender conficts, and more.

So much of this week’s efforts involved healing and regeneration. Despite some uncertain, heated, and fractured moments, this year’s group of men (around 100 took part) were wonderfully able to cohere and hold the space, including for three young men who had lost a friend through gang violence a couple of weeks ago; another young man who held his friend as he died from gunshot wounds; and a father whose three-year-old daughter had unexpectedly died in his arms after an illness. Other trauma and life-long pain entered this space, one of a few nationally that adequately and deeply attempts to get to the heart of the matter surrounding these issues. In the end, we left with much song, story, dance, and poetry (I do poetry workshops at these events every year). And we also left with a fierce fellowship of men, filled with substance, myths, ideas, art, ritual, and healing paths.

The event also served to highlight the publication of Michael Meade’s book The Water of Life: Initiation and the Tempering of the Soul, published by GreenFire Press, an imprint of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation. Please order this through the Mosaic website (

I came back home -- back to family, Tia Chucha’s, my writing, and tons of other work (including 1,000 emails) -- ready to engage, fully energized and awakened to the crucially necessary work we must do in community for deep social/spiritual/cultural/personal transformations.

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