Yesterday evening we had the pleasure of attending a celebration of our friend Judith Rosenberg’s seventieth birthday.
We first met Judith several years ago when she joined the 15 Minutes of Fame writing practice group. Through both her writing and our conversations over lunch, we’ve learned that she hails from New York, that she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, that she sings and plays the guitar, that she writes poetry, that she likes Indian cuisine, that she has thought of writing fiction based on her doctoral dissertation.
Now. Reading over the preceding paragraph, I’m struck by its inadequacy. I should have taken notes during the open mic segment of the party, when people who have known her for many years, worked with her, traveled with her to the Texas-Mexican border reminisced about their friendships, using words such as dedication, service, tirelessness, brazenness, and spirit of anarchy.
In fact, brazenness and spirit of anarchy make me wish I’d both taken notes and asked questions. I believe I missed some interesting stories.
The Judith story I’ll share will seem trivial compared to what others have told, but it relates to something in her personality and character that I have personal knowledge of, and that appeals to me: Judith likes dogs. Not long after we met her, she adopted Chucho (Chuchi to his friends).
According to my research, chucho means dog, mutt, or mongrel. Depending on where in Latin America you happen to be, it can also mean long-eared owl, sweetheart, rawhide whip, jail, shiver and shake, gossipy, tamale, and custard-filled doughnut. It can mean something else, too, but I won’t go into that. It’s enough to say that Judith’s Chuchi is a sweetheart. There’s a bit of custard about him, too.
When Chuchi became part of Judith’s family, our writing group was meeting in the large back room of a small but popular coffee shop. We arrived early on Saturdays and took over a far corner, moved tables together to accommodate the usual six or seven people, and settled in for the next two or three–or four–hours. Because the City of Austin allows dogs on decks and patios of eating establishments, Judith brought Chuchi along. He was blessed with the enthusiasm of (large teenage) puppyhood, but he behaved admirably, especially when Judith was with him. When she went inside the main room to order breakfast, leaving David to act as dogsitter, Chuchi loosened up, danced around a bit, greeted strangers. David is not a strict disciplinarian.
While we breakfasted, wrote, and read, Chuchi lay on the floor beside Judith’s chair. Occasionally he took a stroll, bumping legs, poking his nose out from under the table, reminding us he was there, willing to accept all morsels that came his way, probably wondering why none ever did. Chuchi wasn’t allowed people food.
This pattern continued for the better part of a year, until one day a man with an air of authority about him approached Judith and kindly told her that Chuchi was violating a city ordinance: dogs are allowed on decks and patios outside. The room we met in had once been outside, but since the gaps in its concrete block walls and its partial roof had been closed, and it had been gussied up with paneling and A/C and a heater, it was now inside. He was sorry, but Chuchi could not return.
We were sad, but soon afterward we moved our meetings to a library, where dogs don’t even think about entering. So Chuchi wouldn’t have been able to stay much longer anyway. And since libraries don’t serve food, he probably didn’t regret his banishment. He enjoyed our society, but the aroma of sausage seemed to be the real draw.
We couldn’t get a picture of Chuchi last night because instead of attending the party, he went to a sleep-over.
All right. End of Chuchi story and back to his owner.
Judith’s passion is social justice. She is board president of Austin tan Cerca de la Frontera, an organization that seeks to address conditions of social and economic injustice along the Texas/Mexico border particularly as they affect women and communities of color, and to find community-driven alternatives through transnational solidarity and fair trade. She’s also involved in Women on the Border, the Texas Fair Trade Coalition, and Fuerza Unida. She organizes delegations to travel to Mexico to meet with maquiladora workers in communities along the border.
You can read more about Judith and Austin tan Cerca’s activities at the ATCF website. Judith may show up again here as well. There’s still research to be done on that spirit of anarchy thing.
Happy birthday, Judith.
We had a blast.
Instead of sitting around a table, we faced the same direction, watching as one by one our fellows approached the lectern. Instead of listening to short prose and fledgling poetry written against the clock, we heard poetry composed in solitude and revised, edited, and polished at leisure.
We learned our friends don’t just enjoy writing. We learned they’re poets.
After the reading, most of the readers and about half of the audience migrated down the sidewalk to the Fire Bowl for dinner.
What’s next? We don’t know. We’ve thought about a retreat. Spending a day or two in a quiet rural setting with nothing to do but write write write sounds attractive. But it will take planning.
I predict, however, that when we gather tomorrow morning, we’ll feel an energy that wasn’t there before. I predict more wordplay, more laughter, more of the spirit of fun that has attracted writers to 15 Minutes of Fame for the past fifteen years.
15 Minutes of Fame’s longevity is due to the efforts of moderator Mindy Reed, who founded the group and has kept it going. Mindy hasn’t been able to write with us for a while, but we look forward to her return. Meantime, if you drop by Recycled Reads, she and her staff will be happy to give you an excellent deal on a used book.