Cheers from the Wasteland: A San Jose Place Based Journal

A self-described introverted writer reaches out to find kindred spirits across San Jose with a new place based journal, Cheers from the Wasteland. A place where writers, artists and all who have ties to San Jose can find each other and shift the perception of San Jose as a creative wasteland one post at a time.

The immense sprawl of San Jose can pull your legs and arms along with its expanding breath and like taffy you can begin to feel thin and changed. You can get lost in all the transforming streets and swirling faces trying to retrace your steps to find your heart, but luckily for us, the creative pulse of this town is still thumping along the fences that divide us. When that shrinking feeling comes from rising prices and your dreams seem to be out of reach, art is what stands you straight and you are once again defiant on your own terms. 

San Jose is boiling over with writers and artists and talented minds that simply need an outlet or a space or the motivation, and my friend Leslie Patron, or as I call her, Li, has made something beautiful in its pure and honest intention of shining bright lights on those who often create, but away from the limelight. She has created an online place based journal, Cheers from the Wasteland, that showcases writers and artists who have connections to San Jose. 

It just launched this Monday Feb. 22nd and as a writer/creator/feeler, I am so proud of her and excited to see all the people who gather around this spark and watch it catch into a bright fire. I met up with her downtown for some coffee talk after I had already had 2 cups of coffee. I mostly punished her with fast paced ramblings at first, but we eventually got around to talking about Cheers From the Wasteland and here's how that went.

Rich Gutierrez: What’s the story behind the name Cheers from the Wasteland?

Leslie Patron: When I first moved back to San Jose from Providence, Rhode Island I started reaching out to other writers and one of them used the word wasteland to describe San Jose. After that I started seeing it more and more in internet articles and hearing other people put down San Jose as a place to work in. So that concept that San Jose is a wasteland for people who create is important to the title. And, I’m interested in the double meaning of the word cheers. On the one hand it’s something you might see on top of a postcard like a greeting, and then on the other hand it's like shouting and encouragement. So the idea of the journal is both as a greeting from San Jose creative people and that in order to be more visible and seen and heard and find each other we might have to shout.

R: What is your connection to San Jose?

L: I was born and raised here. My family on my Dad’s side has been here for four generations and three generations on my mom’s. I grew up on the east side, off of White and Mckee. I went to school downtown and I lived here up until 2008 when I moved to Providence, Rhode Island, but I guess I also lived in Berkeley and San Francisco briefly at various periods, but I have always come back to San Jose.

R: Why is it important to create a link with other writers, specifically here in San Jose?

L: Even though I am an introvert, there's something that is really isolating about taking your practice completely underground and when I was living in Providence I was connected with a lot of other writers and it was exciting to have people to bounce ideas off. I think people are out here creating things usually alone, feeling isolated and a lot of people leave for that reason because there is no way to find each other. If you do a Google search on writers in San Jose very little comes up so I think it's important to have a place for people to find each other and to showcase all the different kinds of writing that comes out of here, like I'm thinking about that quote that Lorna Dee said to me in a message…

R: This was in response to the letter you wrote her?

L: Yea, so I don't know if it’s ok to quote, I don't know

R: hehehe

L: She said that it’s an asset to be a creative person in San Jose because there’s not a definitive style here. Which I think is probably the most positive spin you can put on people not being able to find each other. In a place like Oakland or San Francisco there is more of a definitive style because the community is much more built up around art and writing.

R: Totally, I feel like the tools are there we just need to use them, but they are sometimes a little hidden. Also, I remember you showing me that book of poems you found written in the early 1980’s called “The Second St. Poems.” I thought a lot about how writers connected before, would you just write and send out a floating message in a bottle?

L: Beverly Silva (Author of The Second St. Poems.”) She was a friend of my uncle’s. I get the sense that San Jose in that period was more connected, especially through the Chicanx art community. That’s something I am learning more about. I want the current landscape to be less discouraging.

Someone asked me if I thought San Jose was a wasteland and I realized that that's kinda what's most at stake for me in this project. On one hand, because of my roots here, it's not a wasteland to me. I’ve heard stories of this place from my family my whole life. As a person who writes and is trying to get by in one of the most expensive regions in the world, it is pretty isolating and can be pretty discouraging to be here.

R: I feel that that isolation when moderated can also be a good catalyst for writing.

L: Definitely.

R: When there are pressures on a community like ours, where you get lost in the immense sprawl of San Jose – it can be pretty alienating and people start to feel that pressure. People create a lot more in those conditions, but I feel like the resources also become much more limited. Are you hoping for this project to become a resource?

L: Yea, I mean it depends on what you mean by resource. It's important to me that this project stays rooted in D.I.Y values, so I don’t see it being a financial resource, but in terms of it being a community resource, like if people want to be able to find other writers they could contact me and have a potential place to show their work. I have aspirations of having an anthology come out of it, or events of some sort, but that’s all still in the works. I want the project to be a resource in the sense that I want it to make things more visible and change the way people see San Jose because every time I hear someone say it's a wasteland here it makes me think that people are just beaten down and just not being creative about the ways that they see this space. I'm hoping to shift that in some small way.

R: What do you envision, where do you see it going? You sort of answered that already, but maybe elaborate a bit more?

L: Writing is the thing I am passionate about, but I want it to include visual art, too. There are two artists included in this first issue, but one thing that I want is for someone to get involved who's more connected to that world so I can have support with that.

R: There is a part of the project, well I don't know what to call it!  A website? I don't want to call it a website because it's more than a website.

L: I've been calling it a place based journal!

R: Haha I like that

L: The whole point of it is that every single thing in it has to be rooted in San Jose as a place.

R : Very cool, in this place based journal there is also an inspiration map, which I thought was such a cool thing. Can you talk about the inspiration map?

L: My idea behind the inspiration map is that I can think of many places as a person who's lived here for most of my life, where I felt inspired and that it would be interesting to... I hate this word, but I'm going to use it, crowd source contributions to this map and you don't have to be, or identify as an artist to contribute. The whole point is to gather different places where people have felt inspired. I’ve been really impressed with the range of different things that people have contributed, it's like a mix of community institutions like museums and libraries, but then also creative submissions like, well this is mine, but the pool at James Lick during free swim, the trees along St. James Park.

Right now I have a little over 30 submissions, but I'd like to see it grow and get contributions from people of all different ages and backgrounds. Currently, the majority of contributors have been born and raised in San Jose, but I’m interested in the voices from the people who moved here as well.

R: Another piece of the place based journal is where the writers read their pieces, why read the pieces?

L: Oh! I think that part of place is the way that people speak. Being able to hear people's voices is more than just reading the words on a page, it's also an accessibility thing. Some people connect more with things when they hear them aloud, but also just the idea that people who are from different places have different inflections and certain ways of speaking and I think part of raising the visibility of San Jose as place is finding a way for that to be heard.

R: I am really excited to see where it goes, as your friend I think it's cool to see this really take off as much as it has. It is a really empowering project.

L: Awww thank you, I appreciate all of the support.

R: That's all I got, is there anything you wanted to say that we didn't get to cover in my badly planned out interview?

L: I probably said it all, but it's been exciting, just the process of doing this project made me feel a lot more positive about where I live and where I come from and I hope that this project can do that for other people too! I hope it gives people a stronger sense of place and a better idea of all the beautiful nuanced things that can come out of a wasteland.

Follow @cheersfromthewasteland on instagram for frequent updates as the journal expands across San Jose's landscape.

Rich Gutierrez is a mixed brown boy, a self-proclaimed writer and artist born and raised in San Jose, California. He says: Within the last couple years, I started writing again, self releasing four zines of personal writings called, Boy seeking Pain. I am a strong supporter of using art and writing as structure to heal and unlearn; most of my work is centered around acknowledging fears and strengths and the importance of both. Acknowledging the true beauty and duality of Black and Brown folks by reinforcing the importance of documenting our own histories regardless of how sad, hurtful, loving or strong. We will create and continue to create in the face of misfortune.

Related Media:
The Sacred and Familiar in the Forthcoming "Knowing Your Worth" Zine 

Storytelling to Uplift Others

San Jose Domestic Violence Survivors Speak Out with Art and Community

This article is part of the categories: Arts & Culture  / Community  / Environment 
This article is part of the tags: Cheers from the Wasteland  / Leslie Patron  / Place Based Journal  / San Jose writers 


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