Live, Love, Laugh
Rich Calo, Author

Official, as it appears on the back cover of my novels

Rich Calo was born in Madrid and raised in Montreal. He currently lives in upstate New York, where he spends his time walking the old canals and industrial mills, pondering change. He doesn’t own a dog. Or a cat.

Equally official but more comprehensive, as it appears inside, at the end of my novels

Rich Calo was born in Madrid, Spain, raised in Montreal, Canada, and currently lives in New York. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Rutgers, New Brunswick, but intellectually speaking, he doesn’t stay in one place long: his careers have included tenure-track college professor, applied anthropologist in the Middle East, documentary film maker in Europe, and now he is an information architect who runs a Digital Transformation agency.

But what truly turns him on are people – why they do the things they do and feel the way they feel, why some strive to be at the center of attention while others get deliberately excluded or accidentally left by the wayside. Fascinated by those who don’t fit, he feels bad for each and every one of them.

Rich is always up for discussing the madness of those who’ve come unstuck from their world, what he calls society’s discarded. You can join him on Facebook to pick up the conversation, or contact him below.

Made up, but only because that’s the way I remember it

When I was four, my family, composed of mother, father, two brothers and one sister (the sister hadn’t been born yet), arrived in Montreal, Canada. We came from Madrid, Spain. I don’t remember the flight. I don’t remember life in Madrid. My earliest memory is of a closet – I was inside it. The closet in turn was inside my kindergarten classroom. The teacher had put me in that closet because I couldn’t speak English. I assume she thought I would learn English more quickly that way.

A second memory – also kindergarten, although it could have been first grade – is me sitting at the front of the bus, under the protection of the bus driver, trying bravely not to cry, because the other kids were picking on me. Again, the language thing.

There were other such incidents, and with this kind of encouragement my English got good; excellent, in fact. To the point at which I won awards here and there for composition, reading comprehension, oratorical skills, whatever. I remember – now in grade six – that some government people arrived to test us and that after the test was complete I was given special consideration in the language arts. I don’t remember what that consideration was, but I was given it. In grade six, also, I put together a weekly school newspaper, all of whose stories and columns I wrote, and whose crossword puzzles I came up with. Still in grade six, one day the teacher asked us to draw something and I drew a pretty picture, and I turned to speak to the kid at the desk behind me, and when I turned back to my picture, someone had put a strip of scotch tape straight across it. There was this sinking feeling in my stomach – I remember that well – and there was another feeling; I think it was shame; I think it was shame at myself. Because I didn’t fit, I didn’t belong, and I was being let know.

For a long time afterward – years, in fact – I was ashamed of my parents’ accents, and I hated it, just hated it, if we had to be out in public together, especially where people knew me.

And I remember one stupid incident: my mother and I were in the IGA (a supermarket in Quebec), I was twelve or thirteen, I picked up an item and said something – in Spanish – to the person beside me. I hadn’t been paying attention and I thought the person was my mother – but she wasn’t; she was some random woman. My face on fire, I stammered out that I was practicing for a school play and I ran off.

Incidents like these colored my childhood. If psychoanalysts are right when they say that the boy makes the man, that means they now color my adulthood. I no longer care whether one hears me speak Spanish, or that I come from Spain and live in a country where a shocking number of people don’t know where Spain is. In fact, I now take pride in speaking three languages perfectly, and in having a slight accent in all of them, which I think makes me vaguely “exotic.” So you could say I’m over it – no more shame, no embarrassment.

But something remains from that early period. Because I was on the outside, I developed a specific sympathy – a sensitivity, if you wish – for others on the outside. I care about them; they’re anything but invisible to me, or objects to ridicule so I can “better” in some inexplicable sense. Indeed, it floors me every time when people I know, normal people, friends of mine, don’t see them, or laugh at them. Sure they see a member of an ethnic group, an economic group, a political group, a gender, and make a judgement on that basis. But it’s as if they can’t imagine that there’s an inner life, a heart that beats like theirs and that suffers like theirs, behind the labels. That saddens me, because I am invariably reminded of that child in the closet.

It also saddens me because it takes an act of imagination – not merely that you can imagine yourself in someone’s shoes but that you can imagine being them in those shoes – it takes an act of imagination to make the cognitive leap necessary to identify with others. And these people I know, they seem incapable of making that leap. I don’t need to say that that’s a leap that’s essential for a writer, right?

Anyhow, this is not the place to offer solutions – this is a biographical sketch, after all. The solutions I offer, however – I lay those out in The Madness of Lone Coyote, and in Tears in the Garden, and in forth-coming books, naturally. I leave you to discover them there.