Thinking today about the original title for the memoir, “A Habit of Landscape.” The title was gently nudged aside by editors at University of Oklahoma Press for the more precise and seemingly rooted, “Walking the Llano.” I did walk the llano, at least a tiny bit of it, but as I write in the memoir, it was in a effort to be more deeply rooted, to more deeply inhabit a place. Habit and habitat share a root themselves: “it dwells.” Maybe I’ll use that title for a collection of poems I am working on.
How do we walk and explore and yet dwell? This week I enjoyed another perspective on this question as I met Emily Guerra of the Las Cruces NPR station, KRWG, sponsor of the show, Puentes. I discovered the studio was downstairs, really underground, from the PBS station upstairs. I pushed the doorbell as indicated on the door and a diminutive Emily Guerra answered. Bright smile, graceful moves, she swept me into the labyrinth of offices and finally to a vacant recording room for our interview Here was the warm radio voice and persona I had followed for years on her nightly music show. “When I listened to your voice mail about this interview, I thought I had the radio on,” I laughed. “And I’m still trying to improve [read: learn] my Spanish,” I added referring to her other nightly bilingual show– a little nervous at meeting this local celebrity.
I was honored to be asked to an interview about my memoir for Emily’s news feature, Puentes (Bridges), highlighting local folks whose lives in some ways build bridges within our community. Emily herself is one of these people as she skillfully interviews, edits, and airs their stories. I had done an interview for Story Corps, the New York based group who travel across the country in an airstream to conduct local history interviews which are archived in the Library of Congress. So I slid behind the big black microphone with some familiarity and anticipation.
Emily is a busy person, that day moving between two jobs and multiple responsibilities at the radio station. But her passion is community and the importance of oral history to a community’s roots and identity. Her question to me? “What effect has your writing had on your students, their work, their stories?” It’s just about the best question a writer could be asked. For it’s not just about the writer or even the work itself but—especially in our busy world—the inspiring to story, to the understanding that everyone has a story and that they are all invaluable to building bridges, building community. Dwelling together.
But maybe the ultimate community might flourish with a bit of help turning differences that seem more like barriers than bridges. “Can I omit this word?” Emily asked, pointing to the word “Texas” in the book’s full title, Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place. Exactly my point, I laughed in reply, remembering how I tried to get my editors to understand the sometimes irritating connotations of
“Texas.” Just a memoir of place, I said as we got started—building.