Memories of Bogota, Colombia - that's Natalie (Naty) Vesga.
Hello, Chicago! (and Stephanie Friedman, Carol Anshaw, Natalie Vesga)
So one of the joys of getting to Chicago was being reconnected with two friends, Carol Anshaw (author and painter) and Natalie
Vesga (my roommate from my first trip to Colombia).
Met Carol for lunch and heard her good news, all the exciting pre-pub buzz for her new novel, Carry the One. I mean, Carol’s
earlier novels, three of them, got great reviews and enthusiastic readers, but without drawing real attention to her work or, how shall I say?, lifting her. This time around, her publisher has her traveling the country before the book comes out. Her book is the Indie Next List #1 pick for March, but this time around Simon & Schuster isn’t relying on bookstores alone. The publishing business model keeps changing. So besides the before-the-fact tour, they sent out hundreds of copies to bloggers and to people who post frequently on Goodreads and seem to have the right sensibility. It seems to be working and I am so happy for Carol!
(Carol, however, was somewhat disapproving of the fact I’d been invited to speak at Or Chadash, the LGBT synagogue. “Why
did they invite a straight woman to speak? Couldn’t they find a lesbian?” I was supposed to be there to read the section of The Blessing Next to the Wound about Hector Aristizábal’s youngest brother, who was gay, and to give an update on the status of gay rights in Latin America. But Carol had her way: the Friday snowstorm blocked the route and I never made it to the shul!)
Back to Stephanie Friedman’s office at the University of Chicago where I stashed my luggage and made a general nuisance of
myself. Check out Steph’s blog, The Winding Stitch. Writer, poet, teacher, wife, mother, associate director of the writers studio and summer session in continuing ed. She bakes pies and keeps kosher — the woman has enough to do without organizing several days’ worth of events for me and Hector, getting almost a dozen different organizations on the campus to cooperate when I suspect they usually don’t even recognize each other’s existence.
Naty and I finally reached each other by phone and she came to the office to pick me up and we were squealing in the street with
excitement like the kind of teenage girl I never was. We went back to her place where we talked nonstop for hours and I got to meet the “babies” – the dogs that figured in her Lariam-induced delirium in Bogotá when she awoke in terror (and woke me in a rage) believing we were on a bus being attacked by paramilitaries and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, that I had called her dogs
“hillbillies.” She gradually calmed down that night when I assured her that I knew her dogs were wonderful. I also got to meet her husband, Giano Cromley, who gave up a career in politics to do something honorable and meaningful. He got his MFA and writes fiction (Check out a sample story on-line here and teaches at King-Kennedy alongside poet Martha Vertreace– small world — who I know from Vermont College.
Naty is getting her Masters in Social Work and she told me about the project she’s getting off the ground. I will share it because
if you like it and steal it and implement it elsewhere, she’ll be thrilled. So much the better! Programs already exist where troubled youth work with animals to learn responsibility and caring for others. But she wants to connect at-risk and gang-involved youth specifically with organizations that do pit bull rehabilitation. She thinks the dogs and young people have a lot in common, both groups have been stigmatized as dangerous and face banning, lock-up, extermination; they’ve been molded to be aggressive and violent (whether by humans or by their environment). The youth already know pit bulls and know them as marvelously dangerous. They can identify with them, and as they work to socialize them and teach them gentleness, Naty believes dogs will transform youth at the same time that youth transform dogs. More effectively than when kids who’ve been traumatized by violence work with, say, golden retrievers, or other dogs who are mellow to begin with. Great idea, no? I love it. I want to connect her to Micaela Myers
at Stubby Dog which works to improve the reputation and lives of pit bulls. Naty wants to meet Cesar Millan!
Author, Playwright, Troublemaker