The Right Place

Oct 13th, 2015 | By | Category: Campus News, Fall 2015, Issue
AlfredoHeadshotby Alfredo Celedón Luján
Director’s Assistant, Bread Loaf Santa Fe
MA ’87

I began my career as a “DA” (Director’s Assistant) at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Before that, I was a Bread Loaf student in Vermont. When I applied to Bread Loaf in 1981, Director Paul Cubeta had written to me saying mine wasn’t the strongest of applications, but something told him Bread Loaf was the right place for me. Serendipity foreshadowed: I was accepted.

Eastward Bound

In 1982 I drove to the Green Mountains. It was my first time east of Santa Rosa, New Mexico: Tucumcari, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, St. Louis, the Arch, the Mississippi River, Chicago, Oak Park, Rush Street, Second City, Wrigley Field, the Great Lakes; then up through the Adirondacks, the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry across Lake Champlain, Middlebury, Ripton . . . everything green and new to my eyes.

The first thing I learned when I arrived at the Bread Loaf School of English: Never walk into the dining hall on your first day and sit at a table with strangers and say, “Well . . . New Mexico isn’t all desert . . .” to someone who has assumed it is.

And when she asks, “Really, you have mountains? What are they like?”

Never ever say, “It’s hard to explain . . . They’re part of the Rocky Mountain chain . . . They have sharper points; they turn crimson at sunset . . . They, ummm, have more character.” Lordy, faux pas number one—word choice. Be ready for a half-hour lesson on the history of mountains all the way back to the War of Independence.

Ken Macrorie did the calligraphy on this sign in 1991. He affixed it to a file cabinet. Three years ago, Lise Johnson and I carefully cut it away from the cabinet when we discarded it, and she placed it in this frame. This Ken archive is permanent in the front office.

Ken Macrorie did the calligraphy on this sign in 1991. He affixed it to a file cabinet. Three years ago, Lise Johnson and I carefully cut it away from the cabinet when we discarded it, and she placed it in this frame. This Ken archive is permanent in the front office.

More importantly, I walked into my first class at the barn, Writing Non-Fiction Prose, and met Professor Ken Macrorie. What did I learn from him? Self-identity: free writing, voice authenticity, stream-of-conscious, and getting my name back. Ken stopped me on the walk in front of the Inn one day, and he asked, “Your name on my student roster is Alfred, but I see you sign Alfredo to your writing.”

“I feel like Alfredo when I write,” I said.

“So what should I call you?” he asked.

“Whichever you want,” I said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“But it does matter,” he said. “I’m calling you Alfredo.” In that moment I went from being “Alfred,” my-kindergarten-to-32-years-of-age-school-identity, to my birth certificate name. Ironically, in New England I recovered my New Mexican self. When I returned to Santa Fe, I went to the NM records office and asked for a copy of my birth certificate. And yes, my birth name is Alfredo. I got it back on my personal “road less traveled” to Vermont, “and that has made all the difference.”

In 1986 I learned how to fail at writing a pastiche. I was in Jim Maddox’s Make Yourself Up class, and he gave the pastiche as an option for a paper. I tried it, and he guided me. But I couldn’t quite get the form down. However, the idea synthesized a few years later in daily life. I have written and have had my students write many pastiches since then.

In Vermont I learned about New England hospitality. One of my housemates at Brandy Brook was Dean Bogardus. One summer we had a road crew that traveled in Fleeta Harris’s van with the orange Florida “Gators” spare tire cover. Dean hosted us at his farm in Poestenkill, New York. I had never been in upstate New York except on my drive east. Another housemate, Dan Farber, was from Gloucester, MA, of Perfect Storm infamy. He hosted us at his home, and we went to a Red Sox game.

This reminds me of a hit I should have had one summer playing Sunday afternoon softball in the field in front of Tamarack. I tagged a screaming line drive down the first base line. Lucy Maddox, professor at Bread Loaf and Georgetown University, backhanded it—plucked it right out of the air. Lucy is best known for her teaching, scholarship, and directorship at the eventual Bread Loaf Santa Fe campus, but in my mind, her robbing me of that double stands out as her indelible accomplishment. Dang it. 

A Brilliant Discovery

And I learned the word serendipity. Of course I had come across that word in some reading or vocabulary quiz previously, but it didn’t have life-meaning. I had not returned to New England or to the Bread Loaf campus since 1987, when I graduated. I was a participant in “The Writer’s Eye,” an NEH seminar at Brandeis the summer 1990. Dan Farber, who was still living in Gloucester, took me to another ball game at Fenway (saw Reggie Jackson hit a major leaguer off Tom Seaver into dead center). When the NEH session ended, Dan had driven me up to The Mountain to meet with Jim Maddox, who was now the Director. I had scheduled the meeting to talk about the possibility of doing a Master of Modern Languages (MML) degree. In his office Jim told me Bread Loaf would be opening a campus at St. John’s College in Santa Fe the following summer. “Would you like to be involved?” he asked. The sand shifted beneath my feet.

“Sure,” I said. The MML became a secondary topic, which, over time, faded.

I walked out of Jim’s office and sat with Ken at the Inn lobby. I told him about Bread Loaf Santa Fe and that Jim had asked if I’d like to be involved. I figured Jim wanted a contact person in New Mexico, nothing more.

“Of course you need to be involved,” Ken said.

Jim made the official Bread Loaf New Mexico announcement at the dining hall that night. Little did I know then that the campus in New Mexico would begin at St. John’s College, move to the Native American Prep School, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and then back to St. John’s.

I walked out of the Inn and headed to the barn, where Dan was waiting for me. Along the way I came across Vermonter Larry Abbott, whom I had met at an NCTE conference. He greeted me with a stink eye and reminded me that he had written to me asking if he could crash at my place in Santa Fe while he was on sabbatical.

“Remind me of the dates,” I told him.

* * *

Larry was crashing at my condo a couple of months later when Jim called to offer the DA position to me. I accepted. And coincidentally, a couple of weeks later, Larry got the same offer. We became the first DA team at BLSF.

In June, 1991, John Elder arrived as the first outasight On-Site Director. We were setting up the office/computer lab with seven behemoth Apple IIes and a monster printer in Fine Arts Building 104. A mountain of a man knocked and stood there occupying all the space in the doorway. “Hello,” he said, “I’m Tony Hillerman.” We stopped unpacking, wondering why he was there. He said he had come to get ready for his reading that evening. John handled it perfectly. He said the reading wasn’t for another week, but we’d like to take him to lunch. We went to Maria’s, and I swear, you’d have thought we were eating with Elvis the way people gawked.

Tony Hillerman was the first of a series of authors/artists who have read/presented at Bread Loaf New Mexico. Check this out: N. Scott Momaday, Sandra Cisneros, Gary Nabhan, Nora Naranjo-Morse, Billy Collins, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Julia Alvarez, Joy Harjo, Joan Logghe, Pat Mora, Ofelia Zapeda, Lee Marmon, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Luci Tapahonso . . . among others.

 

What I Have Learned at Bread Loaf New Mexico

That first year I took the Literature of New Mexico course with John Elder. I read and learned a lot, but what stuck with me the most was the concept of the ecotone: a transition zone between two biological communities. John told us the ecotone is richer than either community because it contains the flora and fauna of both. Santa Fe, being between desert and mountain, is a perfect place to explore ecotones. On nearly every dawn patrol we stopped to observe the bouquet of chamisa, piñon, blue spruce, alamo, cacti, juniper, apache plume, ponderosa, Indian paintbrush, and yucca. And even if he didn’t mean it as a metaphor, the word ecotone has for me included the diversity in ethnicities, languages, and cultures that intermingle in the enchantment of northern New Mexico.

TheRightPlace

Alfredo Lujan leads daily “Dawn Patrol” hikes each morning on the Bread Loaf Santa Fe campus.

I learned about John Warnock. John taught Cultures of the American Southwest. He partnered Bread Loaf with Cornerstones, a non-profit that is committed to restoring historic churches in New Mexico. John wanted to make sure that somehow during the 25th anniversary, the restoration of churches and other adobe structures be invoked. I’m certain there are others, but for sure the churches where Bread Loafers left their sweat and handprints in the mud were in Arroyo Seco/Taos, the morada in Mora, Our Lady of Guadalupe in South San Ysidro, San Isidro in North San Ysidro, San Augustine, Tecolote, Ojo Caliente, the Galisteo Sala, Cañonsito, and the famous Oldest Church in the USA: San Miguel Mission.

In the 25 years I’ve been doing this gig, I have learned so much. I learned about commitment and leadership from the outasight On-Site Directors: John Elder, Lucy Maddox, Andrea Lunsford, Tilly Warnock, John Warnock, Claire Sponsler, and Cheryl Glenn. And I learned about Pounds Sterling at Oxford when I was bookkeeper (if you can believe that) under the brilliant Directorship of John Fyler. I learned about allegiance to the program while having fun at my job with Cheryl. I entered the digital world of story telling with Jeff Porter and Shel Sax. I learned about Santa Fe Nativa and beautifully chanted alabanzas from Gabriel Melendez, Norteño to the max. I learned about the Atomic Southwest from Jesse Aléman. I climbed the Alaskan Talkeetna Mountains on a snow machine for a breathtaking view of Denali over glaciers and the Susitna River thanks to a Bread Loaf New Mexico connection with Orianne Reich and Harold and John from Wasilla. I learned about hard work from my “partners in Crumb” (coined by Larry): Larry Abbott, Christian Leahy, SuZanne Curtis, Eileen Clark, and Lise Johnson.

I learned about generosity in the Southwest. First, my mother and father and siblings and aunts hosted the entire Bread Loaf community at their backyard with posole, frijoles, red and green chile, tortillas . . . like family, for a few years. Then Elizabeth and Jim Brockmann and Larry Belyeu hosted us in the Nedra Matteucci Gallery Courtyard for another few. And a few years ago, Robert Frost (this is true), owner of the Inn of the Turquoise Bear hosted our senior reception—the tradition continues. All with family spirit. Those receptions for years have been integral to the development of the Bread Loaf crumbunity.

I learned that celebrating a birthday can lead to matrimony and Maine: from a land locked arroyo-lovin’ northern New Mexican to a kayaking water-lovin’ Mainer-in-law “from away.”

I have learned that Dixie Goswami’s Bread Loaf (Rural) Teacher Network has reached deep into the heart of education in New Mexico through the DeWitt-Wallace network and through her own vision for Writing for Change via leadership from Susan Miera, Alicia Fritz, and Tom McKenna. I learned how a real Writing Center operates from Jon Olson, who has directed the Ken Macrorie “Writing Rodeo” at St. John’s.

When I spoke at the 25th reunion on July 11, I said nearly every person who has come through Bread Loaf Santa Fe has wanted my job, but I have repelled them all. I have dissuaded them by outlining my hours—you have to be up by 4:30 a.m. or at Cheryl’s first email ding, whichever comes first; you have to haul AV equipment up the hill at 9:30 p.m.; and you can go to bed by 11:00 p.m. most nights. Here’s the bottom line: you can’t have my job.

I never did earn the Master of Modern Languages degree. No, my MML morphed into a BLNM. Can you imagine how much knowledge and wisdom I’ve taken from the professors, speakers, readers, authors, students, the land, and the sky at Bread Loaf New Mexico?

In the last 5+25 years I have learned that serendipity isn’t just a word—it’s a real, weird thing. It happens. From my dorm room/office I look out at the orange-crimson-yellow-blue Jemez Mountain sunset or sunrise behind the Bell Tower at St. John’s. I realize what I already knew in 1981: Bread Loaf is the right place for me.

10 Comments to “The Right Place”

  1. Nell Whitman says:

    I came to Bread Loaf aching for mentor teachers and ended up meeting a life mentor. Alfredo’s character is as solid as the adobe bricks he has guided so many of us in shaping. All we need is a perfect measure of humor, respect, tenacity, and graciousness— más intelligence, wisdom, warmth and humility—and we, too, can aspire to the leadership Alfredo models. (If only those running for public office could spend time with our BLNM líder.)

    As it is, only those who are blessed (ultimately) to spend a Bread Loaf summer in Santa Fe, those who scramble breathlessly behind him up the sandy trails at dawn, will bear the imprint that New Mexico and her native son burn on our soul.

  2. Nell Whitman says:

    I came to Bread Loaf aching for mentor teachers and ended up meeting a life mentor. Alfredo’s character is as solid as the adobe bricks he has guided so many of us in shaping. All we need is a perfect measure of humor, respect, tenacity, and graciousness— más intelligence, wisdom, warmth and humility—and we, too, can aspire to the leadership Alfredo models. (If only those running for public office could spend time with our BLNM líder.)

    As it is, only those who are blessed (ultimately) to spend a Bread Loaf summer in Santa Fe, those who scramble breathlessly behind him up the sandy trails at dawn, will bear the imprint that New Mexico and her native son burn on our soul.

  3. Nancy Gray says:

    Alfredo, you are the hero of Bread Loaf Santa Fe. I will never forget how you lovingly showed us your beautiful New Mexico, and it was you who inspired me to move my life to Santa Fe. Remember: running down the road to see the water rushing in the acequia after a huge thunderstorm, camping under the stars on the night of the meteor shower, singing every night in the courtyard, eating your mother’s green chile stew with homemade tortillas. We laughed so hard in those summers! Although I live in Michigan now, back with my family, I dream often of New Mexico, and my days with you at Bread Loaf are among my fondest memories.

  4. Nancy Gray says:

    Alfredo, you are the hero of Bread Loaf Santa Fe. I will never forget how you lovingly showed us your beautiful New Mexico, and it was you who inspired me to move my life to Santa Fe. Remember: running down the road to see the water rushing in the acequia after a huge thunderstorm, camping under the stars on the night of the meteor shower, singing every night in the courtyard, eating your mother’s green chile stew with homemade tortillas. We laughed so hard in those summers! Although I live in Michigan now, back with my family, I dream often of New Mexico, and my days with you at Bread Loaf are among my fondest memories.

    • Alfredo Lujan says:

      Nancy! I didn’t even know you had written on this page until late last night. Do I ever remember our (actually your and Lisa’s and anyone else who could sing [I just listened]) sunset singing on the steps in between Meem and Jones — vividly! And of course I remember breaking bread/homemade tortillas (pun intended) at my mom’s house with the BL community … and the venida rushing in acequias and arroyos. Great memories. But I had forgotten about the meteor shower — thank you for the image/reminder. And I also remember a camping trip to Morphy Lake with my folks and uncle and aunt and Lisa (and perhaps Larry and Sally?). And you guys sang around the camp fire, “What’s Up” (listening to it right now) … fond fond memories, my friend. I did not know you were in Michigan — we had a 25 year re-union at BLSF last summer — I put you on the invitation list thinking you were still in Santa Fe. Sure wish I could have seen you. Where in Michigan are you? What’s up? — seriously (pun intended). Thank you for writing — brought back so many good times, including the BL dances, which were a blast. Be well. Write to me at my BreadNet address or FB when you get a chance. Con Cariño Siempre — Alfredo

  5. cheryl glenn says:

    The heart and soul of Bread Loaf Santa Fe, Alfredo captures the brilliance of that campus–and its people–with his legendary style and grace. He easily transports us through the history of BLSF, making us feel as though we were actually there with him, when, indeed, most of us were not. But those of us who have had the luxury of spending any summer with Alfredo joyously join the ride through history.

    Alfredo’s essay serves as a model of memoir-writing for all the Bread Loaf students and alums who are thinking about capturing their own memories of their Bread Loaf summers. I hope many more will follow suit. I’d love to read more such Bread Loaf-related memoirs.

  6. cheryl glenn says:

    The heart and soul of Bread Loaf Santa Fe, Alfredo captures the brilliance of that campus–and its people–with his legendary style and grace. He easily transports us through the history of BLSF, making us feel as though we were actually there with him, when, indeed, most of us were not. But those of us who have had the luxury of spending any summer with Alfredo joyously join the ride through history.

    Alfredo’s essay serves as a model of memoir-writing for all the Bread Loaf students and alums who are thinking about capturing their own memories of their Bread Loaf summers. I hope many more will follow suit. I’d love to read more such Bread Loaf-related memoirs.

  7. CHRIS BENSON says:

    Reading Alfredo’s memoir above, even as it traces Bread Loaf history to the later ancient epoch, is a remarkable breath of fresh air. I expect it to encourage a rash of responses here of favorite memories. I will offer one about Alfredo himself. He remembers all the faces of Bread Loaf; let us remember his for a moment.

    I once solicited a piece of writing from Alfredo, for this publication, on the importance of community or some such topic. He came back with a piece of writing about the annual restoration of the acequias in the community of Pojoaque, in northern New Mexico. Acequias are irrigation ditches whose water, which is siphoned off the local rivers and streams, is used to grow crops in the area. It’s a complicated water delivery system in which all the farmers democratically share the precious resource. Consequently, they also share the work in the annual restoration of the acequias, which are damaged or clogged during winter months by hard weather, floods, and snow melt. Alfredo wrote an entertaining, educational article about this annual community activity in the 1997 Spring/summer issue of this magazine.

    Flash forward to the following year, when I was visiting Alfredo in Pojoaque, where he was a public school teacher. It happened to be early spring, so Alfredo took me out to one of the local acequias to observe the men working. It was a cross-cultural experience for me, a visiting gringo from South Carolina. Most or all of the men were Latino, which was clear by the predominance of Spanish—with much injected slang—spoken by the workers as they did the work: “Dame la azada.” and “Donde esta la pala?” And so on. And then finally, when Alfredo and I come walking up: “Mira! Quien esta aqui! Es Alfredo! Esta aqui porque quiere ensuciarse sus manos por un cambio?” (Pardon my rough Spanish). Alfredo took some ribbing from the workers who sarcastically asked if he was there to get his hands dirty for a change.

    I learned there is an established hierarchy of workers in this annual community event: there is the man in charge, the landowners, and the laborers. Perhaps one’s age and the size of one’s agricultural plot also figures into one seniority in this work setting. As a visitor, I couldn’t be sure. However, it was clear the men were kidding Alfredo, a public school teacher and not a farmer, about how happy they’d be to put a shovel in his hands. He was clearly respected and well liked among these men.

    We hung around for a bit while Alfredo chatted about the work with the men. I enjoyed seeing Alfredo happily conversing with the el mayordomo, los parcientes and los obreros, saying hola to all, many of whose children he had taught over the years.

    In Alfredo’s case the old saying is true: you can take the man out of New Mexico, but you can’t take the New Mexico out of the man.

  8. CHRIS BENSON says:

    Reading Alfredo’s memoir above, even as it traces Bread Loaf history to the later ancient epoch, is a remarkable breath of fresh air. I expect it to encourage a rash of responses here of favorite memories. I will offer one about Alfredo himself. He remembers all the faces of Bread Loaf; let us remember his for a moment.

    I once solicited a piece of writing from Alfredo, for this publication, on the importance of community or some such topic. He came back with a piece of writing about the annual restoration of the acequias in the community of Pojoaque, in northern New Mexico. Acequias are irrigation ditches whose water, which is siphoned off the local rivers and streams, is used to grow crops in the area. It’s a complicated water delivery system in which all the farmers democratically share the precious resource. Consequently, they also share the work in the annual restoration of the acequias, which are damaged or clogged during winter months by hard weather, floods, and snow melt. Alfredo wrote an entertaining, educational article about this annual community activity in the 1997 Spring/summer issue of this magazine.

    Flash forward to the following year, when I was visiting Alfredo in Pojoaque, where he was a public school teacher. It happened to be early spring, so Alfredo took me out to one of the local acequias to observe the men working. It was a cross-cultural experience for me, a visiting gringo from South Carolina. Most or all of the men were Latino, which was clear by the predominance of Spanish—with much injected slang—spoken by the workers as they did the work: “Dame la azada.” and “Donde esta la pala?” And so on. And then finally, when Alfredo and I come walking up: “Mira! Quien esta aqui! Es Alfredo! Esta aqui porque quiere ensuciarse sus manos por un cambio?” (Pardon my rough Spanish). Alfredo took some ribbing from the workers who sarcastically asked if he was there to get his hands dirty for a change.

    I learned there is an established hierarchy of workers in this annual community event: there is the man in charge, the landowners, and the laborers. Perhaps one’s age and the size of one’s agricultural plot also figures into one seniority in this work setting. As a visitor, I couldn’t be sure. However, it was clear the men were kidding Alfredo, a public school teacher and not a farmer, about how happy they’d be to put a shovel in his hands. He was clearly respected and well liked among these men.

    We hung around for a bit while Alfredo chatted about the work with the men. I enjoyed seeing Alfredo happily conversing with the el mayordomo, los parcientes and los obreros, saying hola to all, many of whose children he had taught over the years.

    In Alfredo’s case the old saying is true: you can take the man out of New Mexico, but you can’t take the New Mexico out of the man.

    • Alfredo Lujan says:

      Hey, Chris,

      thank you for the great memory. I remember exactly where we were standing that day on the acequia. Great memory for me too. And another great memory, not BLNM related, but definitely Bread Loaf related — the Celtics/Hawks NBA game we attended with Andrea Lunsford in Atlanta — my first Celtics game ever!

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