An Urban Native Horror debut in Oakland

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Movie posters at IFH premiere

Movie review of The Smudging

I had the good fortune to see The Smudging in its Bay Area premiere. The film and event was hosted by Mike Marin, who grew up at IFH, the Intertribal Friendship House, in Oakland.  He began his film in 2015 inspired by his lifelong fascination with horror movies including the sleeper hit, It Follows. After seeing that film, he went to a restaurant and began to write his concept on several napkins. It is based on real-life experiences Mike and acquaintances had at the American Indian Center in Chicago which became the location of The Smudging. The film also pays tribute to stories he heard from family members and mentors.  Mike Marin is quickly becoming the face of urban Native American horror.

One of my dance brothers had posted on Facebook about this film and it immediately got my attention. I have written extensively about my love for horror film and fiction. I’m always excited to support Native American artists, artists of color, and Bay-Area bred artists.  While at the premiere, I met Mike Marin and Kevin Nez, of The Mac Nez podcast. I asked Mike a few questions about how long it took him to make the film and what his plans are in terms of distribution.  According to Mike Marin, The Smudging is his tribute to old school horror with the goal of bringing back moments of terror in the audience and getting away from modern-day Hollywood gimmicks of gore and sex.

The Smudging follows a group of Native paranormal investigators, the Night Stalkers, who are called to investigate The Native American Cultural Center in Chicago. The building was unfortunately the scene of lurid crimes committed by a serial killer.  Both staff and clients have been experiencing increased instances of paranormal activity including voices, moving objects, and general feelings of unease. The young children who attend the center are especially prone to experiences and are then unwilling to participate. Parents are pulling their kids out of the center to combat the resulting nightmares and fears.  The Night Stalkers decide to spend the night filming and learning what might be happening.  It’s a terrifying film. Even though the action mostly takes place in a massive four-story building, the first half of the film is claustrophobic. I was in a roomful of people yet I felt like I was crouching in a corner. The second half of the film brings in the hero figure who also happens to be a veteran and a healer.

As a horror movie aficionado, I enjoyed a film that was original and yet had an old-school feel. Despite its modest budget, this film captivated me for the 90 minutes of its entirety. My heart was racing and I held my breath for most of the film.  I also enjoyed the all-Native cast; it’s refreshing to see so many people of color in a film. The relationships between the members of the Night Stalkers were relatable and often humorous. The moments of humor helped balance the genuine horror the audience was experiencing. There were several cultural references which gave a uniquely Native perspective. The film also included horror movie musts like jump scares, scary music, and a building sense of dread. An underappreciated element of horror is the life lessons the characters gain; the films that resonate with me are those which highlight the best in people and in that respect, this film did not disappoint.  The Smudging met and exceeded my expectations.

After the film, Kevin moderated a Q&A session. We learned more about the process, heard some funny behind the scenes anecdotes, more about the individual cast members, and even some trivia about the props used.  I liked having an insider view of the film.  We were also treated to the trailer for Mike Marin’s next film, Moshego.  We were then encouraged to share our thoughts via social media and I was more than happy to oblige.

I am excited for what is next for #thesmudgingmovie. There is the possibility of another Oakland screening in the next few months.  This is a film we need to support. Whether you are from Oakland or a Native or a horror movie fan or a supporter of artists of color or any combination of these, please make an effort to see the film.

Mike, I wish you ashe and I’m excited to be a supporter of your film.

To learn more about the film, visit #thesmudgingmovie

 

 

 

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Greener grass

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I started my new job approximately a month ago. I am energized, excited, happy, and hopeful. These are positive feelings which bode well for my new start.   This is my 22nd year in secondary education.   It is my first year as principal.    During the summer, my friend, fitness and leadership guru @dymeetworld (find her on Instagram!) posted that “the grass is greener under me.” I really liked that post and idea. So often, when we change jobs, end relationships or move locations, we do so out of the feeling that the grass will be greener in a different situation. The grass can be green, yellow, or non-existent, no matter where you go.

My mindset is what I bring to every experience I have. I go into a new situation with an open mind and hopeful heart. To be happy is an action, not a feeling. It’s not about feeling bitterness and resentment about the past; it’s about challenging me to take new opportunities. I consistently aim to be my best self.  The grass is always going to be greener because I’m always looking for the best in even the darkest situation. I feel lighter. I feel free. I feel younger.  My last experience prepared me well for the job I now hold. No hay mal que por bien no venga. All experiences are for my growth and progress. Change moves me forward.  The grass is green underneath me.

*Thanks, dear friend, for sharing your positivity and wisdom with us. You will continue to inspire me in this new phase of my career.

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Dance break

This year, I decided to celebrate by doing what I love, rather than having a party or gathering.  I spent my birthday with my family in Los Angeles enjoying good, though not pricey or fancy meals.  The rest of the week was dedicated to dance.

I got back into town Saturday afternoon.  Sunday, I had Bruno Mars flash mob performance day and a master workshop with the Hamilton choreographer(Taking my shot.) Monday was my weekly Beyonce Run the World choreo class. Tuesday, after 3 long weeks, was a return to my samba no pe workshop. The objective for that night’s lesson was endurance so we danced samba no pe nonstop for an 8 minute song, 7 minute song, and a 5 minute song, etc. (My calves and feet felt that for days!) Wednesday I had the privilege of seeing The Revolution on their reunion tour honoring Prince. They gave a show that was 100% wonderful. I was in the general admission standing room section, one row back from the stage, where we danced and sang along all night.

By that Friday, I needed a break. I had a ticket to Morning Mashups with Daybreaker but slept in instead. The thought of getting up before 7am on a Friday to commute to San Francisco to dance for a few hours was not appealing. My #summerofdance was not the best time to start training for a half-marathon.  My joints are indeed 45.  It’s important to listen to my body and get adequate sleep.  This is a work in progress.  With my job change, honoring my health will be crucial.

My #summerofdance not only brought me great joy but it helped me rediscover downtime.  I don’t need to go, go, go to remain stable and happy.  45 is a good year.  I am committed to keeping it so.

Taking my shot

19800753_10155851120687784_1554847163686573762_oThe Sunday after my 45th birthday was a day filled with dance.  My day began with Bay Area Flash Mob.  We performed our Bruno Mars medley at several locations in San Francisco. Due to Carnaval preparations and end of school year busyness, I only attended a few classes in preparation. But I was on a mission to be part of a special performance for a wedding anniversary and the flash mobs.  I practiced on my own and did extra rehearsals with my group. After four performances, it was time for a workshop opportunity through Pop Star Booty Camp.  I had my shot to learn choreography from Hamilton’s resident choreographer Derek Mitchell.

What I loved about this session was how our teacher explained the intent of the movements. It was Method dancing. Our teacher, Derek Mitchell, took the time to explain who the characters are, what the ensemble is feeling and experiencing as they hear the words of Alexander Hamilton, what is like to be moved by this group of revolutionaries and how each movement speaks to those emotions.  Derek also took the time to discuss the current political climate, how this particular song and this musical as a whole are relevant. I was moved to tears twice that afternoon. I felt the true overlap of where I am emotionally and mentally and where we are politically. Those thoughts and themes came together beautifully.

Derek explained the concept of ensemble in a way that struck a chord. He said that an ensemble is part of the scenery; individuals are not supposed to stand out. Too often, I have experienced competitiveness and showboating in dance communities.  There’s nothing wrong with being pushed to be at your best or wanting to shine. But I have a problem with environments that promote cliquishness, feed drama and create rivalries, conflict, and dissension. I want to be part of an ensemble, of a community where I am part of a greater whole, dancing for the greater good. Getting out there, shaking your thang, and having a good time is fun. But it is empowering to be part of a diverse group of people sending a powerful message about fighting for freedom and the right to be ourselves.

There was a section of the “My Shot” workshop that called for improvisation. Derek stated that so many of us show up, physically present, but we hide in the back row. It rang true for me. If you look at photos, I’m always in the middle or the back. I shy away from being in the front. I need to be more comfortable pushing myself. I was nervous about improvising a solo. He encouraged us by reminding us it was our moment and asked how we, as individuals, were going to contribute to make our country great.  In that improv, I was a school principal, a samba dancer, a writer, a mother, and a proud mujer. I felt powerful, beautiful, and worthwhile. It was exhilarating.

This day of dance illustrates what it is I have been seeking.   I am seeking opportunities that are positive, cooperative, and collaborative. I am grateful to my samba workshops through the Samba Queens Academy, to BAFM, and to the Hamilton workshops for the new opportunities. I am in a different place as a dancer and it feels wonderful.  I’m committed to continuing my growth in ways that promote my evolution and joy. #summerofdance

The Mystery of El Cucharón Quemado

 

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another Nancy DelaCruz mystery 

Because our weekdays tend to be busy, I like to cook several meals on the weekend.  One spring weekend, we did well. I made a pasta dish with M; she enjoys cooking with me. We also put a chili in the Crockpot.  The plan was for me to prepare another dish on the stove. I opened one of the drawers to look for my favorite cucharón. I found it, burnt in half.  Whodunit?

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I was more amused than irritated (yes I was upset) that it was placed back in the drawer as if I wouldn’t notice.  Though I have small hands, I wasn’t going to be able to cook with it.  I imagined it was left on the stove and the rubber tip started melting and/or the whole thing caught fire.  I didn’t know if my mother in law had asked Rambo to cut it in half but it wasn’t a clean cut. M had no idea. She thought it was strange it was put away looking like that.  Rambo was apologetic and offered to pay for it. He looked into the mystery himself. His mom tried to argue that it might have been my daughter and her friend during their playdate. M has been hurt in kitchen accidents during cooking camp so she has firsthand knowledge of kitchen hazards. My mother in law also offered to replace the cucharón. I was hoping I would get an explanation. After snapping a picture to document this hilarious moment, the cucharón went out with the trash. The mystery remains unresolved.

Living with in-laws is never easy. But my problems with my living situation are minutiae for the most part. I might find a plastic bag or container in my compost bin. A dish might still be wet when I pull it out of the cabinet.  This week, I located my misplaced library card in my child’s toy box. These are simple, silly matters that can add up, especially on a busy day.  Keeping a sense of humor and a knack for detective work is a must.

End of watch

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Every four years or so, I go through a change. This isn’t only career changes. (The 3.5 year itch) It also has to do with the creative communities in which I participate.  The longer I am with an activity or community, the more familiar I become with it. The stars fall out of my eyes.  Familiarity allows me to see the reality of the people around me and whether or not the activity or community is contributing to my growth.

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I used to be on a TV show.  The first year I was in star-in-my-eyes newbie. I thought it was the greatest thing I had done.  I was happy to meet new people, to have a new social network, and to have a new creative outlet.  It was fun, positive, even with the complicated and tedious logistics of being on TV. My second year went well as I expanded my social network. I had gotten my bearings as I knew what was going on.  But I began to experience interpersonal drama. As with any close-knit community that spends lots of time working together, conflicts arose. Within the social circle, hierarchies and cliques formed. People expressed their affinities towards one group over another. The group became divided into factions along various lines. So being on the show began to go sour. By the end of my time on the show, I had cut back on the time I gave. I no longer made an extra effort to appear on the show. I had severed ties with several people with whom I had socialized. I moved on at a point when being on the show was still fun. I knew its time had ended.

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Years before that experience, I was a club kid for years. I hung with the same group of fellow dancers and followed the same DJs for nearly a decade. Of course, my life went through many changes, both personal and professional. While there were moments of drama, we were able to move past those. I have been friends with some of those people for over twenty years. Whenever we reunite, we recreate the best of those times. Our bonds are still intact. The love that was fostered has transcended time.  As I compare both these experiences, it could be that my time on the TV show wasn’t about fostering love.

As I grow within a community, my thinking begins to shift after the second year and definitely during the third year.  I see this as positive as it allows me to reflect. I evaluate whether my participation is worthwhile. When I’m no longer being the best version of myself within that social circle or if I feel that my creativity is being stifled by my own lack of effort, by social circumstances, or due to the leadership, it is time for me to move on. I understand when I have completed my growth cycle through a community and outlet.

Creative communities are called to foster love. Where there is genuine respect and love, problems can be resolved. But it’s important for me to recognize when an activity or community has served its purpose. I have grown and accomplished some goals. I am ready to move on to the next project or experience.

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Me moving on to new opportunities 

Killing the Girl

Game of Thrones is now informing my take on leadership. In the past, The Exorcist was a touchstone to which I always returned.  Game of Thrones provides food for thought in every episode. All kinds of leaders are in action, some evil, some righteous. Different decisions are made and some thoughtful, some poor, some made with the help of advisors while others are made by the leader on her or his own.  While it is a fictional fantasy and therefore full of extreme examples, the show does provide lessons to be learned.

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In Season 5, Episode 5, “Kill the Boy,” bae Jon Snow has become the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Jon consults the Maester because Jon trusts him as one of the few people of integrity to whom he can turn. The Maester is over 100 years old, blind, and frail. He is not vying for power and has been loyal to Jon.  Jon appreciates his wisdom. The Maester knows a lot about the world. He’s an actual Targaryen but he renounced being part of the noble family to join the Night’s Watch.  So Jon seeks his counsel on a decision he has to make. As a new leader, Jon has already been questioned about his strength in leadership. Even when he was still a steward, Jon was mistreated for several reasons. As a bastard, he is on the lower end of the social ladder. However, because he grew up in a noble family, he is perceived as a spoiled rich kid. Though the Maester points out that Jon did not need to consult him, he offers this observation, “You will find little joy in your command, but with luck, you’ll find the strength to do what needs to be done. Kill the boy…and let the man be born.”  I liked these words so much I scribbled them on a notepad and I now carry with me to work.

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Another part of the conversation between Jon and the Maester involves the response to a decision. Jon feels half the men will disagree.  The Maester reminds him that half the men already do. In leadership and in life, there are always people who are difficult or divisive, those who breed drama or foster negativity. People will doubt me or want to get in the way of change; they woke up that way (and not looking like Beyoncé either!) I will have to deal with those situations in a way that will sit right with my values and with who I am.

Recently, I was reflecting with a friend who is new to educational leadership. I had previously shared with him my ideal of leadership with integrity. I know the reality is going to be difficult. I know I will struggle to be assertive and confrontational. I want to strive for my ideal. I want to lead in a way that when I get home to my family, I will feel good about a decision I made. Feeling good doesn’t mean jumping for joy. It doesn’t mean I won’t hurt feelings or compromise my “popularity.” I’m not leading to be liked. I’m not leading because it’s easy. I’m leading for a greater purpose and that is to serve young people.  Whatever decision I make has to be one my students deserve.

Like Jon Snow, I’m entering a new phase in my life. I’m excited about being the Lord Commander and feel ready to kill the girl.