Book Review of Unf*#!ing Believable by Kay Matthews

Reviewed by BILL WHALEY in Taos Friction
7 April, 2018

“I’d prefer not to.” Bartleby the Scrivener

Mi amiga Kay Matthews has published more than 100 fast paced blog posts in her book, Unf*#!ing Believable (Chamisal, Acequia Madre Press, 2017) of 334 pages: brief columns about daily and political life aqui en El Norte including vignettes of la familia y los vecinos. Matthews and her life-partner Mark reared their two boys in El Valle, Taos County’s southern-most village, home to twenty or so families. She lives in the middle of the village on an acequia, where she irrigates 10 acres, wields a rototiller, attends ditch meetings, raises delicious-looking tomatoes, takes care of her dogs, contends with bats, and, as a journalist, advocates for the land and water communities up and down the Rio Grande valleys of Taos, Rio Arriba, Mora, and Santa Fe Counties.

(Editor’s Note: Kay Matthews and Mark Schiller published the print edition La Jicarita, A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico for 16 years (1995-2011) http://www.lajicarita.org. Then continued with an online version https://lajicarita.wordpress.com from 2012 to 2015, co-edited by Professor David Correia of UNM’s American Studies Department, who wrote with Tyler Wall, “Police: A Field Guide,” “a book about four years of struggle for justice against the Albuquerque Police Department” until the professor retired from journalism due to academic duties.)

Kay touched a nerve with the dedication above, a quote from my favorite Melville story. Further on, she refers to a favorite pop tune, Brandi, which, like the Bob Dylan lyric, “When you have nothing, there is nothing more to lose” sticks in the mind of one like me, who, like Charles Lamb, has no ear. While reading this entertaining and instructive book, I think of Kay as our own Amy Goodman of El Norte even as I sing to myself: “Brandi you’re a fine girl.”

It’s not just contemporary social criticism that we have in common and hardly anyone here reads but she mentions growing up in Colorado Springs where I went to college. While she worked as a “lifeguard” at a motel in Manitou Springs, I remember singing Beatle songs at the Iron Springs Chateau in the same neighborhood during a fraternity beer bust in 1965. Call it synchronicity, the 60s. So she sings the Blues or rock’n roll tunes as she dances round the house when she’s not attending concerts.

About her partner Mark (RIP…i.e. cancer) she writes: “Mark and I, together for 34 years, only looked like each other when we danced, a synchronized dance team that will never be replicated.” She publishes an unsentimental but series of loving notes, entitled a “Bad Year” where she traces Mark’s journey as he succumbs to cancer and both of them confront the unsentimental practice of industrialized medicine in America.

So many of us, Kay notes, members of the Baby-boom generation, have been poisoned by Corporate America, especially here in what we call the National Sacrifice Zone where we live in Taos County, downwind from Los Alamos, host to two toxic fires in the last decade and a half. Matthews edited Los Alamos Revisited: A Workers’ History by Peter Malmgren”(Taos, Wink Books, 2017), an oral history about native vecinos in El Norte, who suffer and suffer unto death from radiation exposure while they worked on the “bomb” or its residual manufacture, one of the great scandals of these post WWII years. This scandal is ignored by the neoliberal Dems like Udall, Lujan, and Heinrich, who allegedly represent northern New Mexico but continue to advocate for the radiating facility, aka LANL, even as they say they deplore the sale of AR 15s.

The letter “B” pops up in Kay’s Blog Posts: “Brandi, Bartleby, Bob (Dylan) Baby Boomers, Bats, Bad Years, Berkeley Breathed, Bush (Torture), Believers (Mass, Passover, Unitarian), and Blog briefs filed as complaints, solutions, filed for the sake of her neighbors in northern New Mexico. There she has achieved a way of life, based on the incremental relationships with Vecinos, La Familia, the land and water, the natural goodness for which human beings take responsibility as an antidote to the injustices of capitalism.

When John Nichols read Kay’s book, he wrote a 65-page response and mentioned how he used her hiking guides. She has also published the occasional novel or non-fiction work, as well as the monthly print or online edition of La Jicarita, news from the neighborhood of northern New Mexico. Her blog posts praise ordinary life while also serving as warnings, really, about the depredations of developers, the Forest Service, divide and conquer enviros, the water and culture thieves, who under cover of local, state, and federal government, i. e. Los Pendejos who would extend the long arm of capitalism, which destroys not only the Native American and Hispanic way of life but the bourgeois lives of unconscious Anglos who support the status quo, which is fast becoming the American way of death. (She and I also got burned early on by developers: she in Placitas, me at Lake Tahoe.)

Even now Kay is working on a book about the great water settlements or “bureaucratization” of acequias and aqua es vida re: the Aamodt and Abeyta settlements. I’ll never forget attending a Taos County Commission meeting in 1999 (I think) on behalf of Horse Fly when the public at large, including the commissioners, and the rest of us found out Tom Worrell, “he who would save the planet,” had sold Top of the World (TOW) water rights from northern Taos County down the river to Santa Fe.

Ironically, only one Taos County citizen (no elected or appointed official) had filed a protest, Kay Matthews. Today the County’s lawsuit against the TOW transfer languishes in District Court, unsettling Aamodt, even as the Healys have leased back some of the water rights from Santa Fe County for their rancho on “Top of the World,” where they experiment in self-sustainability.

Kay is all about self-sustainability, whether you’re talking about the land, water, neighbors, villages, animals and vegetables, the beauty of nature or the culture, whether found in community, books, or music. She also embodies a particular “feminine” version of “productivity,” a quality upon which her partner Mark remarked she possessed in abundance. She sets a standard for those who aspire to a way of life in northern New Mexico, mostly seen in the practice of las mujeres. As much fun and as entertaining as is the book, Unf*#!ing Believable, Kay has also turned an ordinary life as a “Buen Vecino” into an extraordinary life.

Read it, you’ll like it. Buy it at your local bookstore or go online, acequiamadrepress.com or bug her at La Jicarita.

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6 comments

  1. Hi Kay. great article about you by Bill Whaley… You deserve all the accolades – you are one of my heroes BTW, I plan to go up to Taos Friday am and support the kids who are walking out of school to the Plaza for gun sensejust in case you want to come along… I have to be back to SN by 2:30 for our writing group.

    Jean

  2. Muchas gracias Bill Whaley, for acknowledging a wonderful El Norte human being and prolific writer Kay Matthews. I’ve followed both Kay and Mark’s exceptional literary works (including La Jicarita) for years. Having been a community advocate and active parciante on one of northern New Mexico’s acequias myself, it was easy to relate to their thought-provoking discussions. Can’t wait to read this latest book.
    All the best to you Kay!! Keep on truckin’.

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