Judy began to hone the craft of writing in retirement after forty years of practicing neurology and rehabilitation medicine. She lives in Elk Grove California.
She attended Sacramento City College to start her writing venture and found inspiration from Jan Haag, who insisted that her life story was the only important subject. She has written with Elk Grove Writers and Artists with Gini Grossenbacher’s unerringly supportive guidance for several years. She has attended presentations by Writing by Writers led by Pamela Houston, a gifted teacher and acclaimed writer of stories and memoir. Through Alice Winston Kearny, she connected with Gerald and Lorry Houseman, editors of Irie Books in Santa Fe, N.M. and publisher of Strawberry Roan. She plans a second book of memoir and stories.
As I write Strawberry Roan my memoir about growing up in the Gallinas Canyon near Las Vegas, New Mexico, I recall a conversation I had with countless visitors.
When newcomers encountered the name of my home river canyon, they were apt to pronounce it “Gal-EE-nas” or even “Galin-ASS.” They would scowl. “Isn’t that “chicken” in Spanish?”
Gallon ass? I gave a little lecture on the dignity and historical importance of the Gallinas River, whose water made possible the meadows for which Las Vegas was named.
“It’s pronounced ‘guy-EE-nas,’ I’d say, “and one translation is indeed ‘chicken’.”
“Why would anyone name a pretty creek Chicken Canyon?”
I’d explain. The name referred to wild turkeys, still common in the canyon. “Gallina” was a more general term for fowl in the language of the Spanish colonial settlers of the nineteenth century. “Gallina de la tierra” meant the wild fowl, literally fowl of the earth, the ground. They may have picked the name for the same reason that Colorado had so many Deer Creeks and Clear Creeks; it was important to convey where a pioneer could find food or clean water.
They’d ask about Hermit’s Peak, the mountain that dominates the scenery for miles around Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Hermit Peak’s had several names. Its current name honored a man of faith, who lived in a cave near its summit during the nineteenth century.
Pursuit of the Worthless or Pursuit of a Dream?
I added up the expenses for the Morgan National Championship Horseshow in 1999 --- thousands of dollars in entry-fees, stall rental, motel accommodations for me and my children, Lyman, a college freshman, and Betsy, a vet student.
I signed the check for the show secretary and folded everything, the horses’ registration papers, our membership numbers, and the entry form into the manila envelope. I slapped three stamps on the outside and weighed the envelope on a food scale. I mailed the entry.
About 2008, as I gradually withdrew from a forty-year career as a doctor practicing neurology and rehabilitation. I started my journey of writing in a course at Sacramento City College called Writing as a Healing Art, taught by Jan Haag, former editor of Sacramento Magazine. At the time, I didn’t see much need to heal. Jan was the first to see an early version of Strawberry Roan, and insisted my memoir sketches were the most important material I would write.
Any memoir begins when something happens that you will never forget. The emotion tied to the event gives it staying power. My youth had been so different from others, colored with the beauty of New Mexico and misfit moments. Ecstatic joy and crushing embarrassment. The writing let me see for myself how I had navigated a path from a youth with horses and sacred mountains to adulthood and even descendants.
I wanted to share it. If I could get someone else to understand, maybe I would understand as well.
Ah, so that’s how writing heals.
Memoirist, teacher, and author of more than one hundred blogs, Jerry Waxler, recently expanded his review of my recent memoir, Strawberry Roan, to ponder the relationship between memoir and autobiography. I’m grateful for this focus as it clarifies a major problem for me in discerning the plan of the book.
Memoir is typically containerized, my editorial advisors said. Write about the wonderful horse-filled youth, the adolescent in Shangri-La they said, or write about your successful wrestle with the harpy who lived in the liquor cabinet. You probably shouldn’t try to try to cover the thirty-seven years you lived and worked in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
I heard them. I cut up the chapters into episodes, I made timelines and arcs.
But, I mourned the loss of my material: my stories, the variety, the color.
Now Jerry Waxler has noticed. He’s proposed a variant of the classic memoir, one where the stories cover a bigger segment of the life told, from childhood through much of a career.
He calls the new hybrid category memoir-plus, recognizing it lacks the dry completeness of autobiography, and affirms the expanded personal story that “an authentic journey into the author’s quest” can be. I’m proud he used the book of my life as an example.
Thank you, Jerry, for your meticulous analysis of my memoir-plus.
I fought for it.