Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Will it Play in Peoria?

Re-reading my last update, it struck me that my opening comments about the family holiday in Peoria might have sounded incriminating. I’ve also gotten a few off-handed comments. My mother said of the post: It was long.

Well I can read between the lines.

So let me set the record straight.

First of all, Peoria really is a lovely place. Despite the name, the root of which (peor) in Spanish means the worst, it’s got many positive points.

A bluff city, it overlooks the grand Illinois which still carries barges, pushed by tugs, of corn and soybeans, downriver to the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. Back in the 1800s, Peoria became the first world distillery leader. The revenue generated by the liquor barons spawned development, including the construction of majestic in-town mansions. To this day, along Moss and High, these mansions stand tall and stately, with coach porticoes and ornate copper turrets, scalloped roofs and wrap-around porches, a reminder of the opulence of that era.

Of the people, Peorians are friendly in a genuine way. There’s an oft-quoted expression from Vaudeville days, Will it play in Peoria? I like to think it refers to the fair-mindedness of the people versus the boring predictability of middle-American townsfolk. The bar and restaurant scene is decent and prices are good for an ample plate; cost of living is manageable enough to support a decent art scene. Drive a few miles out of town and you are suddenly in rolling, expansive countryside; and if you go far enough you get to the End of the Road where they serve-up a good plate of eggs and bacon and better Bloody Marys.

Secondly, for the record, my family are a group of interesting and generous people. Musicians, artists, scientists, activists, adventurers and geeks, they are engaged with their world - and definitely worth writing about. On holidays we cook, eat and drink, talk (too much) liberal politics and generally relish in each others' company. I remember one Christmas reunion in back country Colorado: I brought along then-partner Tom who, scrambling for a seat at the dinner table packed with aunts, uncles and cousins, remarked: I don’t mind where I sit; there’s not a dud in the bunch.

Tom’s gone; but his comment lives in the family history.

Still…holidays are always a challenge because family can bring you back to your haunted, pimply youth in an instant. In an inflection or a look, you’ve time-traveled back to Friars Road, face-to-face with your own unfinished business. As the Buddhists put it: Family is the final frontier of enlightenment.

But family are a part of my history; so they are oftentimes present on the page, or just slightly off-stage, influencing what I say.

And then there’s you, dear reader, who creates your own world from the written word. This is the challenge and the beauty of writing: to get your truth on the page – open to as many interpretations as there are readers.

I'm sure I'll be facing much more scrutiny (especially from my Self) as I proceed through the writing of my Mexico story. I hope to be truthful, fair and entertaining – that I don’t incite the ire of my family (or my Mexican host-family) – though I cannot make promises. Most of all, I hope I allow enough space on the page for my readers to fill-in with their own frivolous, biased, and expansive imaginations.

Who knows?  Perhaps my Mexico book, when finished and published, will play in Peoria.


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