El Portal is seeking submissions

We want stories and poems about West. West is a bullet-riddled ’85 Grand Marquis, a gleaming spaceship hovering over Roswell, a cowboy paying for latte with his Amex-card, an alien wondering where in the world to get the golden iPhone. West is where it hurts, West is the rattlesnake you didn’t hear, the dust storm sanding your car, the champagne underneath the Hollywood sign, the checkout line of a grocery store that doesn’t carry mandarin-orange segments in fruit juice, green-chili and cheese burritos from the 24-hour gas station. West is when there’s no West left. West is where you always wanted to be.

Write West. Send it our way.

 

Guidelines*:

Flash Fiction (500-1,500 words)

Short Stories (up to 4,000 words)

Creative Nonfiction (up to 4,000 words)

Poetry (3-5 poems)

Art & Photography (Black & White only; 300 dpi JPEG)

 

Send submissions to El.Portal@enmu.edu

Deadline: March 31, 2015

View El Portal‘s Terms of Submission page for official rules concerning submissions.

 

*Please submit all written work in .doc, .docx, or .rtf formats. With the exception of poetry and art/photography, please limit entries to one story or essay. Prizes will be awarded to ENMU students only. Prizes awarded only in Short Story, Poetry, and Art/Photography categories. When entering a submission, please include a 20-50 word biography to be printed alongside your piece in the event that it is accepted for publication.

Thinking West: The Pineapple Express (Weather)

 

Animation of atmospheric river event, December 2014. (CREDIT: NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division)
Animation of atmospheric river event, December 2014. (CREDIT: NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division)

 

In December 2014, many Americans watched news coverage of torrential downpours in California. The torrential downpours, still occurring when this post was written, came at a time when California had been in the midst of the worst drought in its history. (Ironically NOAA claimed that California’s drought was not man-made but naturally caused that same month.) Where is the rain coming from? Did the skies suddenly open up to release a bounty of needed rain over California? If not what brought this unexpected (yet needed) deluge?

For those unfamiliar with meteorology, the rain storms in California seem like some cosmic form of deus ex machina. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. It was the Pineapple Express that brought this much needed moisture to the U.S. west coast. Moreover, it was the moisture brought, and continued to be brought, by the Pineapple Express, culminating in those rain storms that California desperately needed. What exactly is the Pineapple Express? Where does the Pineapple Express originate? These are questions that can best be answered by examining information provided by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research explains that the term Pineapple Express is “[a]n informal name for the flow of low- and mid-level moist air, driven by the subtropical jet stream, that sometimes extends from the region around Hawaii (hence “pineapple”).” NOAA’s description of the Pineapple Express meteorological phenomenon adds to this rather vague yet convoluted UCAR definition. NOAA describes the Pineapple Express as “a type of strong AR [Atmospheric River] that can hit the U.S. west coast.” What exactly is an Atmospheric River (AR)? Again, we must delve deeper into the field of meteorology to find our answers. Nevertheless, NOAA provides an excellent (and brief) definition of this fascinating meteorological phenomenon:

Atmospheric Rivers (AR) are relatively narrow regions in the atmosphere that are responsible for most of the horizontal transport of water vapor outside of the tropics. While ARs come in many shapes and sizes, those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor, the strongest winds, and stall over watersheds vulnerable to flooding, can create extreme rainfall and floods. These events can disrupt travel, induce mud slides, and cause catastrophic damage to life and property. However, not all ARs cause damage – most are weak, and simply provide beneficial rain or snow that is crucial to [the] water supply.”

[A more detailed explanation of ARs can be found here.]

Interesting facts concerning Atmospheric Rivers (from NOAA):

  • On average, about 30-50% of annual precipitation in the west coast states occurs in just a few AR events, thus contributing to water supply.
  • A strong AR transports an amount of water vapor roughly equivalent to 7.5–15 times the average flow of liquid water at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
  • In the strongest cases ARs can create major flooding when they make land-fall and stall over an area.
  • On average ARs are 400-600 km wide.
  • ARs are a primary feature in the entire global water cycle, and are tied closely to both water supply and flood risks, particularly in the Western U.S.
  • ARs move with the weather and are present somewhere on the earth at any given time.

Thinking West: Oregon Founded as Racist Utopia (Gizmodo)

Gizmodo recently featured an interesting article concerning Oregon’s racist past. According to Matt Novak (and historical fact), Oregon was founded as a whites only, racist utopia. Check out the excerpt below:

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.

Waddles Coffee Shop in Portland, Oregon was a popular restaurant in the 1950s for both locals and travelers alike. The drive-in catered to America’s postwar obsession with car culture, allowing people to get coffee and a slice of pie without even leaving their vehicle. But if you happened to be black, the owners of Waddles implored you to keep on driving. The restaurant had a sign outside with a very clear message: “White Trade Only — Please.”

It’s the kind of scene from the 1950s that’s so hard for many Americans to imagine happening outside of the Jim Crow South. How could a progressive, northern city like Portland have allowed a restaurant to exclude non-white patrons? This had to be an anomaly, right? In reality it was far too common in Oregon, a state that was explicitly founded as a kind of white utopia.

America’s history of racial discrimination is most commonly taught as a southern issue. That’s certainly how I learned about it while going to Minnesota public schools in the 1980s and 90s. White people outside of the South seem to learn about the Civil War and civil rights movements from an incredibly safe (and often judgmental) distance.

Racism was generally framed as something that happened in the past and almost always “down there.” We learned about the struggles for racial equality in cities like Birmingham and Selma and Montgomery. But what about the racism of Portland, Oregon, a city that is still overwhelmingly white? The struggles there were just as intense — though they are rarely identified in the history books.

According to Oregon’s founding constitution, black people were not permitted to live in the state. And that held true until 1926. The small number of black people already living in the state in 1859, when it was admitted to the Union, were sometimes allowed to stay, but the next century of segregation and terrorism at the hands of angry racists made it clear that they were not welcome.

Like the article? Check out the full article over at Gizmodo.

Thinking West: Hunting West

 

In the mythic West, game the size of dinosaurs and mastodons roams the sun-parched land. This makes it incredibly difficult for those (new) western settlers from Eastern shores to obtain fresh meat. Thus, new settlers have needed to adapt their hunting techniques by seeking weapons only meant for the likes of Goliath.

Thinking West: Have Gun — Will Travel (“Ballad of the Paladin”)

CBS’s Have Gun — Will Travel was a classic show about a mythical West, where gunslingers, bandits, and businessmen ruled the frontier–all brought to one’s television in crisp (4:9) black and white. The best part of the show had to be its closing theme music or ballad (“Ballad of the Paladin”) by Johnny Western. The “Ballad of the Paladin” crafts an image of a gentleman gunslinger, who is much like the knight-errant of medieval Europe, wandering the landscape in search of adventure and fighting evil men wherever they may be. The show will most certainly be remembered for its attempt to capitalize on America’s insatiable postwar thirst for western themed entertainment. However, the show will also be remembered for helping craft a mythology of the American West by weaving together disparate realities, cultural baggage, and fictions of the postwar world.

Thinking West: Robo Novels

JohnnyRobotTechnology and science now act as the modern world’s newest frontier. It is a frontier full of excitement, questions, and its share of dangers. The questions brought forth from this nebulous frontier could shape our world and how technological and scientific progress become part and parcel of our daily lives. As we approach the singularity of technological-scientific development, debates have arisen over the role computers, robots, and artificial intelligences will play in human society. One such debate centers over the production of cultural artifacts by robots or computers. More specifically, academics and futurists have discussed the role robots and computers will play in our literary future. A recent article by the BBC focuses on this debate and how far we are from this reality. It appears that despite considerable technological-scientific progress in the realm of computers and robots, we won’t be seeing novels that are entirely generated by self-aware machines just yet. Furthermore, it is hard to say when robots or computers will generate novels or stories on their own, severing the link between computer and programmer. Such a prospect is both exciting and frightening. Will robots or computers write the next great American novel? Will the next Haruki Murakami or Fitzgerald be a robot or a computer? If so, how will this affect culture and writing in general?  Will human readers even care if a novel or story is generated by a thinking machine rather than a human being?

Check out the Verge‘s article on NaNoGenMo and the world of computer generated novels.

Thinking West: Tortillas in Space

Tortillas are part of the Southwestern diet, displacing the tasteless, crumby sliced bread. You can roll them. You can stuff them. You can use tortillas to clean your plate or shovel morsels of beans and meat into your already stuffed mouth. Tortillas are the Swiss Army knives of food. They’re served in restaurants and sold in grocery stores. Tortillas are even a staple for astronauts in space and here’s the story behind that…

Tortillas-in-Space

Check out the original feature on tortillas in space (Sploid).

Thinking West: Sci-Fi Growing Up

What happened to classic sci-fi? What happened to the fiction that spanned the known galaxy, hopping from star system to star system? What happened to the fiction gleaming with technological wonders and an optimistic view of the future? What happened to the fiction that imagined boundless frontiers amongst the stars and those spaces between stars and universes?

Science fiction appears to be in a new age. It is an age filled with dystopic futures and collapses caused by the very technologies the Golden Era of science fiction imagined and incessantly wrote about. The new era is dotted with fiction that is anchored to the world we are still struggling to know. Evil corporations, corrupt politicians, and crazy social orders prevail. What the hell happened?

It appears that the current age of science fiction has left behind the techno-optimism of the Golden Era of science fiction. The genre appears to have left that stage in life where the imagination is unhindered by reality and cannot imagine a future that is the product of the endless march of progress and technological achievement.

It seems that science fiction has moved away from those prepubescent years, where fantastical technologies and millions of alien species coexist and mingle in a nameless cantina on some desert world. It has left a time where anything was possible. The good guys were the tough-as-nails boy scouts. The bad guys were vile, menacing figures whose evil plots were always foiled by the good guys.

Science fiction appears to have hit its pubescent years. It is a time of rebellion, anger, and disillusion. It is a time where the new fiction appears to be rebelling against its angry, head shaking parents. Everyone is suspect. Moral ambiguity is the name of the game. It’s a new time for science fiction. It is a fiction that is stuck on the world that has acted as humanity’s cradle for some time. There is an obsession with the here and the now. The individual is king. Move aside great causes! (Unless they present an opportunity for personal advancement, wealth, fame, etc.!)

What will sci-fi’s future look like? What will happen when sci-fi grows up, buys a car, adds ten pounds, and has to argue with kids of its own? What will happen then? How will the “grownup” sci-fi look at itself? Will we have moon bases and starships? Will there be a nostalgic longing for the techno-optimistic days of its long, awkward childhood? How will sci-fi grow up? Will it vote for the road to middleclassdom, where all the houses are made of ticky-tacky? Or, will sci-fi rebel against the cubicle, responsibility, and mundaneness of its adult years? Will we see cyberpunk again? Will we see an escape to those boundless frontiers, where every particle of our imagination is put to the test?

Thinking West: Advertisements for Western Land

Thousands went West believing the hype surrounding those western lands being sold by the nation’s railroads. Railroad companies sold the West as a place of prosperity and plenty. The West was an edenic paradise, where one could grow grapes the size of watermelons and melons the size of wagons–a true land of milk and honey. Although there was little rain in the West, it was said that “rain follows the plow.” People honestly believed this was true. They ripped up the tough sod of the West for crops, expecting blessings of rain and plenitude….

2008411147 Calif cornu fig38 land-grant.1 land-grant.2 land-grant.3 millions-of-acres spyose1

 

Thinking West: Henry David Thoreau

Men rush to California and Australia as if the true gold were to be found in that direction; but that is to go to the very opposite extreme to where it lies. They go prospecting farther and farther away from the true lead, and are most unfortunate when they think themselves most successful. Is not our native soil auriferous? Does not a stream from the golden mountains flow through our native valley? and has not this for more than geologic ages been bringing down the shining particles and forming the nuggets for us? Yet, strange to tell, if a digger steal away, prospecting for this true gold, into the unexplored solitudes around us, there is no danger that any will dog his steps, and endeavor to supplant him. He may claim and undermine the whole valley even, both the cultivated and the uncultivated portions, his whole life long in peace, for no one will ever dispute his claim. They will not mind his cradles or his toms. He is not confined to a claim twelve feet square, as at Ballarat, but may mine anywhere, and wash the whole wide world in his tom.

Howitt says of the man who found the great nugget which weighed twenty-eight pounds, at the Bendigo diggings in Australia: “He soon began to drink; got a horse, and rode all about, generally at full gallop, and, when he met people, called out to inquire if they knew who he was, and then kindly informed them that he was ‘the bloody wretch that had found the nugget.’ At last he rode full speed against a tree, and nearly knocked his brains out.” I think, however, there was no danger of that, for he had already knocked his brains out against the nugget. Howitt adds, “He is a hopelessly ruined man.” But he is a type of the class. They are all fast men. Hear some of the names of the places where they dig: “Jackass Flat,” — “Sheep’s-Head Gully,” — “Murderer’s Bar,” etc. Is there no satire in these names? Let them carry their ill-gotten wealth where they will, I am thinking it will still be “Jackass Flat,” if not “Murderer’s Bar,” where they live.

[Source: Henry David Thoreau. “Life Without Principle” (1863). The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 4, Houghton Mifflin (1906).]

Thinking West: The Devil’s Highway (Luís Alberto Urrea)

DevilsHighway“The Devil’s Highway” is a name that has set out to illuminate one notion: bad medicine.

The first white man known to die in the desert heat here did it on January 18. 1541.

Most assuredly, others had died before. As long as there have been people, there have been deaths in the western desert. When the Devil’s Highway was a faint scratch of desert bighorn hoof marks, and the first hunters ran along it, someone died. But the brown and red men who ran the paths left no record outside of faded songs and rock paintings we still don’t understand.

Desert spirits of a dark and mysterious nature have always traveled these trails. From the beginning, the highway has always lacked grace–those who worship the desert gods know them to favor retribution over the tender dove of forgiveness. In Desolation, doves are at the bottom of the food chain. Tohono O’Odham poet Ofelia Zepeda has pointed out that rosaries and Hail Marys don’t work out here. “You need a new kind of prayers,” she says, “to negotiate with this land.”

The first time the sky and the earth came together, Elder Brother, I’itoi, was born. He still resides in the windy cave overlooking the western desert, and he resents uninvited visitors. Mountains are called do’ags. In the side of one do’ag can be found the twin caves where the spirit of the evil witch, Ho’ok, hides. The coyote-spirit of the place is called Ban, and he works his wicked pranks in the big open spaces.

Everywhere, red shadows. Tiny men live underground, and they are known to the Yaqui Indians hereabouts as Surem. In the past, before the first white man died, Yuki, the devil, controlled all the corn until the crows stole it from him and let some of it slip so men could eat. Mexico’s oldest hoodoo, La Llorona, the wailing ghost, has been heard rushing down nearby creek beds. And its newest hoodoo, the dreaded Chupacabras (the Goat Sucker), has been seen attacking animals, lurking in outhouses, and even jumping in bedroom windows to munch on sleeping children. An Apache witness said the Chupacabras was a whispering kangaroo. It said, “Come here.” He swore it did.

The plants are noxious and spiked. Saguaros, nopales, the fiendish chollas. Each long cholla spike has a small barb, and they hood into the skin, and they catch in elbow creases and hook forearm and biceps together. Even the green mesquite trees have long thorns set just at eye level.

Much off the wildlife is nocturnal, and it creeps through the nights, poisonous and alien: the sidewinder, the rattlesnake, the scorpion, the giant centipede, the black widow, the tarantula, the brown recluse, the coral snake, the Gila monster. The kissing bug bits you and its poison makes the entire body erupt in red welts. Fungus drifts on the valley dust, and it sinks into the lungs and throbs to life. The millennium has added a further danger: all wild bees in southern Arizona, naturalists report, are now Africanized. As if the desert felt it hadn’t made its point, it added killer bees….

(Luís Alberto Urrea, Devil’s Highway, pp. 5-6)

Thinking West: Long in the Tooth (Idiom)

Idiom: noun. 1. a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., raining cats and dogs, see the light ). 2. a characteristic mode of expression in music or art.

The idiom “long in the tooth” might be the weirdest way to say that someone is old. There is a particular elegance to saying that someone is “long in the tooth” versus simply saying someone is “old.” The idiom comes from raising horses. Older horses often have longer teeth. Thus, a horse that is “long in the tooth” tends to be an older horse.

Examples of use (Free Dictionary):

That actor is getting a little long in the tooth to play the romantic lead.

I may be long in the tooth, but I’m not stupid.

Thinking West: The Bleeding Edge

Bleeding Edge: noun. The forefront of innovation or development, esp. in science or technology, typically when still theoretical or experimental in nature. The most advanced stage of a technology, art, etc., usually experimental and risky. 

The frontier is often seen as a hardscrabble place. In our imagination, the frontier is located somewhere in the mystical (mythical) West, the Occident. The frontier is a place with six-foot cacti and scruffy (macho) men galloping on horseback, shooting wildly in every which direction. However, the frontier is much more than that in the modern context. The frontier we see today is still a hardscrabble one. It is a frontier that mixes high stakes investment, corporate intrigue, and the bleeding edge of technology. Today’s frontier is filled with geekier, business savvy types, who know about things like C++. Cybersecurity, and the inner workings of the Information Superhighway. This new frontier is full of risk. It has seen its share of booms and busts. It has tempted a great number of lonely prospectors and misguided investors looking for grandiose riches amongst the unruly fringes of its borders. It has created great barons and giants of industry. It has left behind its fair share of ghost towns and rotting infrastructure….

Thinking West: Water-Witch

Water-witch*: noun. One who claims to be able to find underground water by means of a divining rod; a dowser.

Finding reliable sources of freshwater is a problem that plagues the American West. People resort to a number of obscure methods for obtaining sources of subterranean water. New homesteaders in the American West might pay a water-witch a few dollars to find a reliable source of water. Although water-witches are often associated with the bygone homesteading days, it still persists in areas plagued by terrible droughts.

 

*Source: Free Dictionary (2014)

Thinking West: The Occident

Occident*: noun, adjective, or verb. 1.) Chiefly used in poetry and literary texts as a noun.  The part of the world situated to the west of some recognized region; spec. the countries, civilization, or culture of the West. Originally with reference to Western Christendom or the Western Roman Empire, or to Europe as opposed to Asia and the Orient; now usually with reference to Europe and America as opposed to Asia and the Orient, or occas. to America or the Western hemisphere as opposed to the Old World. 2). The quarter or region of the sky in which the sun and other celestial objects set; the corresponding quarter or region of the earth; the west. b). adj. Situated in the west, western, occidental. 3). trans. verb. To turn or direct towards the west; to place (a church) with the chancel at the western end.

*Definition sources: “Occident, n. and adj.”. OED Online. September 2014. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/130137?rskey=316zDW&result=1 (accessed October 27, 2014) and “occident, v.”. OED Online. September 2014. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/130138?rskey=316zDW&result=2&isAdvanced=false (accessed October 27, 2014).