Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Old Year Musings

Christmas Eve may be my favorite day of the year. The family traditions are few; growing up we would have oyster stew for dinner (a tradition inherited from my mother's family), we'd usually get to break into the homemade caramels and fudge for the first time, and at some point in the evening carolers from our meeting would stop by for a song or two. The routine most years would include (earlier in the month) one of the regular carolers asking why we never came along. "Somebody has to stay home to hear the singing," we'd usually respond. Not sure why it was such a big agenda to get us out of the house, but it never worked.

The Christmas Eve traditions have been slowly changing. A few years back after we finished our oyster stew, we all looked at one another and realized we didn't want to have it anymore. Mom was the first one to voice it, which was all to the good since she was both the chef and the person with the longest tie to the tradition, but all six of us seemed to have the reaction simultaneously. We've switched over to clam chowder, and couldn't be happier. As of last year we've moved locations too; Mary and Tony now host the dinner at Hazelthorne. Mary was clear that she was delighted with this arrangement as long as Fang got brought over to be a part of the festivities. The resident cat, Eddie, was less than thrilled with this intrusion last year, but since Fang is not a fan of stairs, he has plenty of uncontested territory for the duration of the visit. Our change in location also means we're no longer on the carolers' path, and they too seem to have modified things a bit, setting out on the 23rd so everyone can be at home with his/her families on Christmas Eve. All in all though, the evening feels improved for me. It's nice when 'traditions' can evolve that way.

I can never decide if December or May is my favorite month, but right now, by lucky coincidence, December is in the lead. My inner Quaker still pipes up from time to time about how no day, no time, no PLACE is any more holy than any other. He blathers on about how every day should be treated as holy, each moment should be made sacred (you can see why so many Quakers become Buddhists, and vice-versa, perhaps). I hear him, and thank him for his thoughts, but it is definitely my inner Pagan Celt who is in the ascendant at this time of year. I love the Winter Solstice and all the traditions that have collected around it: the birth of the divine child, the Spring God, the longest night of the year triggering a counter-intuitive hope as we begin Winter but anticipate Spring, all the spectacle of evergreens, holly, mistletoe, wrapping paper, ribbon, the smells of good cooking permeating every indoor space, I love it all. I even love the bleak outdoors, where sudden flashes of red from cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers shout exuberantly from the grey, brown and sepia landscape. I'll have to show you those photos later. It's almost fifty degrees right now, and pouring rain, but I love this kind of weather too. Walking in it for an hour gives one an inflated sense of accomplishment when one comes indoors to snuggle up with a cup of tea, and a Christmas cookie or six. The radio plays plainsong, or Bach's Oratorio, or Handel's Messiah, and even if I don't really share the theology underlying them, the sense of joyous celebration is one I can inhabit effortlessly.

And yes, there have already been a good couple of walks with Fang (herself a symphony of brown, grey and sepia, like fallen oak leaves), her galloping in big circles reminding me what total commitment looks like. Every fiber of her being is galloping at that moment, and loving it. A master of second-guessing and paralyzing self-analysis such as myself always benefits from seeing such examples of single-mindedness.

Truth be told, I am not looking back on 2008 with much fondness right now. Oh yes, there is plenty to be grateful for, not the least of which is the many true and wonderful friends I've made through this blog. There have certainly been plenty of good lessons learned this year, I won't deny, but let's not be too precious, I wouldn't say they were FUN. To be honest, I'm happy to see the back of this year. But this time of year usually brings with it a sense of renewal, of hope returning. I'm back in a place where it is easy for me to access feelings of serenity, artistry, purpose, community and love. This year I can feel some new thoughts brewing about how I need solitude as much as community, and how poor I am at filling either need in cities. That will be fodder for some useful thinking, I hope.

I've missed writing here. I'm letting thoughts come unedited right now, since my time in the college library is limited and I've been feeling like some internal censor has been preventing me from writing for a while. Father Tony asked an interesting question a few weeks back; he wanted to know why each of us blogs. I don't feel like I have a good answer for that, just yet, perhaps because the reasons are changing. When I started it nearly three years ago (!) I saw it as a way of staying active when I felt like I was doing precious little, especially of a creative nature. As I discovered, and was discovered by other wonderful bloggers, my sense of who I was writing FOR changed, and that certainly affected what I wrote. Entering into a larger conversation with people, most of whom I ONLY knew through the blogging, became a satisfying motivation. Then came the whole mess with Nicky; suddenly I felt I needed to write much more intimate, personal thoughts than I had before. I felt some sense of obligation to tell my side of the story. I had always wanted the tone of the blog to be personal, but suddenly it was taking on a level of intimacy I hadn't anticipated, and wasn't entirely sure I wanted.

So maybe in recent months I've been experiencing a delayed sense of over-exposure. Don't misunderstand me; none of you have pried into my feelings. I haven't felt pressure from you; no, whatever sense of over-sharing I had is purely internal. The humiliation and pain caused by the Nicky nonsense had more repercussions than I expected it to. I guess these sorts of things always do, especially such lack-of-precedent ones as this. Recently though I've begun to feeling a funny sense of lack. It seems as if something here has become a valuable tool for processing my life. I've been writing three pages of long-hand almost every morning since 1992 (a la Julia Cameron) and my day will feel off if I miss it. A similar sense has kicked in with this blog now. A different need is being filled; I suppose I write here for myself at some level, but your thoughts and reactions have been a wonderful part of the process for me, encouraging in me at least some rigor and structure (though it is obviously sorely lacking in this entry). One thing I will credit Nicky for; because of his (sic) blog I chose to focus on gratitude when writing here as much as possible. I've spent a lot of the last thirteen/fifteen years complaining, and it doesn't seem to translate into anything interesting in my life. Maybe some have found the writing here excessively pollyannish (as so many did at Nicky's blog), but it was a good exercise and provided me with a useful challenge. It may have run its course, that exercise, but I remain hopeful that any venting I do in the future will still have some structure, at the very least faith that solutions are possible. Ah, there we go, that seems key; so much of the venting I do in life (ask my non-virtual friends) can become self-indulgent and defeatist. I might be very funny while I'm doing it, but I'm denying any possibility that something can be done. In the past year the blog has been a venue for me to push myself. Believe it or not, seeking out reasons for celebration and thanksgiving is challenge for me, and one that I benefit from taking on. Maybe the blog is about to test me in other constructive ways.

I hope you're all with people you love, feeling the desire to celebrate rise effortlessly.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Three Sundays

Has it really been over two weeks since I last wrote? In many ways it feels like it's been an action-packed time, even if much of the action has been some high-powered rumination. For no particular reason this entry has photos from the last three Sundays. It just so happens that all three Sundays, whatever else occurred, I also took a really nice walk. Birds figured significantly in all three too. No real point I'm trying to make, I just noticed as I looked at the photos, they were heavy on the birds.

Once again I'm writing in an attempt to articulate thoughts that have largely eluded me. So far the best I've been able to do is identify certain themes that keep popping up. One of the biggest has been gratitude, and I don't think it's just because of the recent holiday. That was wonderful, don't get me wrong, a day spent cooking and dining with loved ones whose views on the good life I always find inspiring and invigorating. It was a great day. Other reasons for gratitude were the performances of Blueprint. Setting foot on that particular stage, I felt a surprising sense of homecoming; it's a big space -11 ft by 30ft- with a 40 ft dome overhead, yet the audience feels very close. This gives it a magical blend of intimate and grand, and has inspired my work on more than one occasion. I was thrilled to be back in it.

Both the producing companies, Six Figures and Kinesis Project, are additional reasons for gratitude. For nearly six years these two companies have provided me with many opportunities to explore my own work. Generally the offer has been something like "we have some free evenings in a great space coming up, ya got anything you want to do?" I'm sure even people outside the nutso world of New York City know just how rare such offers are. Getting to work with both companies at once was luxurious. It was also great that these shows gave me a chance to introduce some of my blogging friends to some of my theatre/circus/dance friends. My worlds got woven together just a bit more.

Of course getting to set foot on a stage again after more than a year (I didn't know I was taking a break, but let's pretend it was on purpose, 'kay?) was... well, the image that comes to me is one of spacious, joyful exuberance. I felt like my parents' dog Fang, when she's been let off the leash to gallop in big dizzying circles. This is not to claim that everything I did worked, mind you. I was trying some new things with some old material (basically trying to move it from bar to stage, and from NC-17 to PG-13), and there are some big problems to be addressed. But just getting to DO the work... yup, big dog running in a field. In the funny way of the universe, doing these shows seems to have triggered some divine network to send other work my way. So far it's only been short scenes with film grad students, but these have come with their own peculiar satisfactions, not the least being the chance to work some creative muscles in danger of atrophy.
But gratitude is not the only word I've been considering lately, sad to say. Another one that keeps cropping up is entitlement. I think this comes from my inner adolescent, the one who still believes the world is supposed to be FAIR goddammit, and says "I've earned my stripes, done my time, I shouldn't have to be starting at square one, or minus one AGAIN!" My inner Buddhist tries to soothe him, saying "remember beginner's mind, all worthy endeavors start from a place of innocence, doing the work is all that matters." My inner Puritan smacks the adolescent with a switch and bellows "you didn't do squat for a YEAR, and it's not like you've been burning up the place before then, what do you expect? There are no guarantees, people work themselves to the bone and STILL might not get 'what they deserve', you've been sitting on your ass for 12 months, you little pipsqueak, what is your problem? Stop sniveling." For good measure the inner critic usually chimes in about now, saying "if no one wants to see you work, then does it really matter how much you feel like a big dog running in a field? Are you doing this just for yourself? Does the world really need that?"
At this point my inner slacker usually notices that The Simpsons is on the TV.

So, gratitude, entitlement, and a whole lot of kvetching. Good times. Actually, it's not so bad, once I identify who is talking. Right now I'd say gratitude -and my inner Buddhist- seem to be in the ascendant. That just seems like the path with the greatest number of options. I like options.
These first few photos are all from a walk I took the afternoon in Riverbank Park (two blocks west of my apartment) before the final Blueprints Show on November 23rd. It was a beautiful sunny fall day, brisk, but still comfortable enough that I could lie down on the grass (in my winter coat) to take the photo above.

It's not just people, my camera really doesn't handle interior shots all that well, especially not in a dark theatre where we only had work lights on. I decided to post some of them anyway, because they cracked me up. This one of my darling Melissa, for example. Like any good dancer, she knows the power of stillness, but you wouldn't know it from any of the shots I took of her that night; in all of them she is a moving blur. This one is wonderfully misleading in another way; she never looks this wicked.

At one point all five of us were doing handstands. I like this shot because it looks like Madeline is standing behind herself.

Here again is lovely Madeline. Though it's dark, this was the only shot I got of a person that was in focus, so I had to include it.

This is friend Jeff stretching. I just thought it was cool. I actually rather like what the camera did here, even if I had no say in the matter. Very expressionistic, no?

This squirrel marks the first photo from my walk on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, in St Nicholas Park, two blocks east of my apartment. This little guy may have been waiting to see if I had any goodies, or he may have been staying close because of...

these hawks. You'll have to enlarge this photo to see them, but there were three, count'em three hawks sitting in a nearby tree. Actually none of the squirrels in the area seemed too concerned. I was just thrilled to see the birds. I never got a decent shot of any of them flying, unfortunately. In this photo there is one in the lower right quandrant, and two in the upper left. The lone bird appeared to be trying, very casually, to join up with the other two, but it never seemed to go well. Families during the holidays, you know how it is.
Another brilliantly sunny day.

This tree full of starlings went into a bit of a tizzy just after I took this photo, probably because...

of the hawk flying overhead. See that little dot just above the pair of towers? That's a hawk. See what I mean about no decent flying shots?

This was sunset on December 7th, my third Sunday walk, once again at Riverbank Park. The temperatures were in the 20s and there was a wicked wind coming off the river from the west. A flock of Canada Geese (or as you call them in Canada, Geese) I first saw on 11/23 (see photo above) had now more than doubled, half of them choosing to sit on the freezing river, in the bitter wind, riding the choppy waves. Maybe it was some sort of arctic amusement park ride.

Periodically a portion of the flock would decide it was time to practice migrating, so they'd take off, circle overhead, then land again, honking all the while. Eventually they all were on land, and began grazing purposefully, one goose clearly leading a loose V.

Good friends, a little work, the natural world if I just pay attention, yeah, I'm sticking with gratitude for now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blueprint: An Assignment (Upcoming Show)

Hey Local Folks, I'll be performing this weekend! Yes, sorry about the short notice, but you're finding out only slightly later than I did. Sometimes that's the way these things go. Would be great to see you there, it will be a fun evening.

BLUEPRINT: an assignment (take 2!)
Nov. 21 and 23rd @ 8pm

Produced by Six Figures Theater Company at
The West End Theater
263 West 86th St.
New York, NY 10024 (B'way and West End Ave.)

Friday November 21, 8pm Sunday November 23, 8pm

Kinesis Project dance theatre
Sharon Estacio
Patrick Lacey
and Jeffrey Wills
share the stage in the AOT Festival!

Tickets are $15

Performances by Jeff Wills as Lloyd Schlemiel, Sharon Estacio on film, Patrick Lacey, Madeline Hoak, Zoe Bowick and Melissa Riker. Seating is limited. Join us!

Buy tickets HERE--

Melissa RikerKinesis Project dance theatre

for fun Kinesis Project t-shirts go directly to:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rally Against Prop 8, New York City

These are just a few shots I took today at the Rally protesting Proposition 8 in California. In case you didn't know, rallies were scheduled in major cities all across the country, and were synchronized to happen at the same time. I think special props should go to the folks in Anchorage, Alaska, because their rally was scheduled to start at 9:30am. Yes, the Hawaiians had to get up at 8:30am, it's true, but they're waking up in paradise, so I don't feel quite as sorry for them. I'm assuming it was freeze-your-ass-off cold in Alaska AND early on a Saturday. So, special props.
New York City's gathering was by City Hall. Haven't a clue how big it was, I'll find out what the estimates were later tonight, no doubt. If my experience with past rallies and marches are any indication, the organizers will quote one number, the police department will quote a tenth of that. I am sure the truth usually lies in between, but I have been at events where I KNEW the official number was WAY off, and I had to wonder, what do they think that's going to accomplish? Misrepresenting a protest as significantly smaller than it was, why would people in authority want to do that? I suppose it's a way of downplaying our power and effect. Maybe they just don't want to scare folks reading the morning paper. Don't get it.
The thing about being in it, and not on stage, all I could see was the crowd of people closest to me. Either I was taking photographs in the middle of it, or at one edge or another (whenever the claustrophobia demon in my head started to get a bit shrill). I was never in a position to be able to see the crowd as a whole. By the way I don't know any of the people photographed here. I think I saw one person I know, I definitely saw an actress I did a workshop with, and I saw an actor who plays one of the recurring judges on Law & Order. You know the one, the handsome man of color with the rich deep voice. Yeah, him. I see him on the subway all the time. Sorry, don't know his name, or the name of his character. But that was as close as I got to seeing familiar faces. New York is awfully big, in case you didn't know.
I love the accidental juxtaposition of these posters and street signs.
A defining aspect of this rally for me was the many inventive ways people used the number 8 to replace 'ate'. There were the classics like H8 and Str8, but then there was also Invalid8, Termin8 ("I'll be back"), oh anytime one had a Latinate (sorry, Latin8) verb, chances are it got the vanity license plate (pl8) treatment. Two of my favorites were Str8s H8 Prop8, and Y.U. Got 2 H8? I think that last one should be a Prince song.
Perhaps my two favorite non 8 signs were Help! There's a Mormon in my Bedroom! and We can't possibly screw up marriage more than you have! My photo of those two signs didn't turn out, sadly. I got the impression the two nice ladies holding them were... together.
Early on I had little else to do besides admire the signs because the P.A system sounded like it had been borrowed from the MTA. One could tell someone was talking, but back where we were nothing was coming through. Periodically the folks closest to the stage would cheer and we'd join in, just on good faith. I'm pretty sure I didn't volunteer to be an Amway distributer, join an armed revolt or anything, but it was a bit surreal at times. Eventually something got fixed, and the speakers scattered throughout the crowd began transmitting. At that point I got to hear State Congressman Anthony Weiner (yes, I wrote Weiner), Speaker Christine Quinn (openly lesbian, for those outside the NYC area), and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. They were all pretty good, but funnily enough it was some MTV reporter -I don't know her name, but I believe she came out first on America's Next Top Model - who most impressed me. Okay, not knowing her from Adam's off-ox (and let's be honest, learning she was an MTV reporter and reality show veteran) kept my expectations nice and low... but she made some good points. One in particular caught me. She asked all of us who we had invited to come down to the rally with us. Had we only invited our LGBT friends? Who had we specifically NOT invited? I didn't call a soul. Not one. That may have partly been due to me wanting to reserve the option to leave five minutes after I showed up, if it was going to be maddening, but even so. Anyway, her general point -that we shouldn't assume we know how people feel about the issue, and we should work to keep the conversation going- was a good one. Others said it after her, maybe someone said it before her, when I couldn't hear, but from my experience, she was the one who reminded us to keep talking to everyone about this issue. The speeches were winding down when I left, around 4pm or so. Tomorrow I'll be able to read in the NY Times what the official line is on the whole event. I will make a point of saying that all the officers I saw and dealt with were cordial and helpful. As the event kept growing, they kept expanding the barricades, eventually closing Park Avenue down to one lane. Oh, I almost forgot all the tour buses that drove by. It was funny being a tourist attraction; we got quite a variety of reactions, though I didn't notice any openly hostile ones. One guy passionately blew kisses to us all. More than a few folks gave us a thumbs up. But mostly people just took photos. I made sure to photograph them photographing us, just for the hell of it. None of those photos are remotely interesting, of course, but I'd like to think I kept at least a few folks from thinking they were visiting the Homo Zoo.
Despite the dire predictions, by the way, the weather was gorgeous. Upper sixties, not a drop of the torrential downpour we'd been prepared for. I also couldn't help noticing the hordes of beautiful people in attendance. As many of you know, I often feel like I'm surrounded by Stepford People in the city, because most of the time I'm seeing crowds only on the subway. I suspect I look just as distant and zombified in that context. Well, while there was definitely an undercurrent of anger at this event, I'd say the over-riding energy was one of optimism. Consequently, people were pretty darned nice to look at.

Monday, November 10, 2008

It's the Fluffy Tail

Yesterday was another warm, gorgeous day here, so I headed up to Fort Tryon Park. All these photos are from that walk.
The batteries in my camera died part-way through the walk. I still managed to get close to 200 shots, but it was probably good for me to spend a fair amount of time just walking, seeing things without feeling the need to capture and freeze them. Sometimes taking pictures means I'm not actually present to what I'm doing. It was good just to look.

Nonetheless I was sorry not to have the camera at one point. I and several other folks were standing by a stone wall overlooking the West Side Highway, the Hudson, and off in the distance, the sun setting behind the George Washington bridge. One guy nearby had a beer, a boom box, and a bag of nuts. I think they were acorns.
Lots of people come to this park to feed the pigeons and squirrels. The latter are quite unafraid of people consequently. More than once I've had one come up to with a hopeful look, simply because I had been standing still in one place for too long. At one point one creature trotted purposefully past me on the wall. I think if I'd been between her and the goodies, she would have walked over me, or maybe pushed me out of the way. The amorous couple next to me didn't phase her either. She dashed over to the bag, stuck her head in, pulled out a nut, started away, then for reasons known only to her, she dropped that nut, went back for another, finally trotting back to sit about six inches from me to eat it. I have no idea what was wrong with the first one (the nut guy and I both asked her, but she didn't respond), nor do I know why she decided she needed to eat it not near the bag, not off somewhere else, but facing me. But she did. Seriously, no more than six inches divided us. I really wish I'd had the camera then, but she took her time with that nut, so I got to study her silky grey and white fur, her big brown eyes (almost Disney-like), her luxurious tail, and her cute little paws. Once she finished the first nut, she went back to pick up the previously discarded one, before leaving to be about her business. Maybe that one was only good for burying. Maybe she was saving it for someone special.
This funny little encounter reminded me of an experience Brian and I had while visiting his family in Cape Breton.
Now before I tell this story, I want to make very clear that Brian is as butch as they come. He's a stud of the highest order, and I am in no way impugning his masculinity when I explain that early on in our relationship he made it clear that it would be my job to deal with any wayward fauna found in the apartment: cockroaches, mice, rats and the like. Specifically, it would be my job to see to it that they left the apartment, preferably dead, but really they just needed to go, so he wouldn't see them anymore. At one point he sent me into the bathroom to deal with a water bug that had driven him from the shower. If you've never seen a New York City water bug, then you don't know that these things are hard to miss, especially in a room as tiny as our bathroom. The floor shakes when they run. These things look prehistoric. They're unnerving at the best of times, but are particularly disquieting when one is naked and sudsy. So I was nothing if not sympathetic, I had accepted this job after all, so I went in to slay it... and I couldn't find it anywhere. Presumably it had gone back down whatever hole it came out of and I tried to tell Brian this. He looked at me blankly for a moment then said,
"tell me it's dead."
So, this was our understanding. I'd say it worked pretty well. Back to Cape Breton, we had been out somewhere for most of the day, and had just come back to his grandmother's trailer, where we were staying. We walked in the front door... and something skittered over by the couch. We may have seen a flash of something too, I can't quite remember, but somehow we both knew it was a rodent. I moved stealthily towards it. Brian went to stand close to the door, no doubt to make sure the mouse or rat ran out of the trailer, rather than down the hall into the bedroom. I'm sure he wasn't planning on making a break for it. I continued my stalking; it skittered behind the curtains covering the big picture window (this is one of your fancier trailers). I leaped at the window and pulled back the curtain to expose our quarry. It froze. I froze. We regarded one another for a moment.
It was a little squirrel. Absolutely adorable. Fluffy tail, little paws, round ears, big brown eyes, it had it all. We continued to stare at one another.
Behind me a quiet voice said,
"Can we keep him?"

Yup, it really is the fluffy tail. Not sure why that makes the difference. But it does.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Finding the Core: Rituals of Celebration or What I Did On My Vacation

(The Bride and Groom, Rehearsal Dinner, Halloween Night)

I had a wonderful October, as I've mentioned before. There have been visits with new friends, time with family, walks in beautiful places, train rides, romping with dogs, bonding with cats, some great meals, and maybe just a bit of drinking. The weather has frequently been stunningly beautiful, showcasing the later-than-usual Autumn colors in New York, Virginia, Cape Cod, Indiana, and points in between. All this alone would be enough to make me very grateful for the past month, but it hasn't been all. Two events rose to the level of ritual, reconfirming some important things for me.
(A Ritual Waits)
I am still enough of a Quaker to be very wary of rituals, for reasons I won't go into here. I've been trying to write this entry for a week now, having started at least five different times, and one of the things that keeps getting in the way is I try to explain too much, on too many topics. Maybe later I'll write about what the early Quakers thought of ritual, and how that still shapes my view, then I might write another entry about how my Quaker side is often at odds with my Pagan Celt side who -surprise- LOVES ritual, pomp, color, noise, music, dancing, earthiness, theatre, occasions, celebrations, yada yada yada... but this week has proven to me that trying to put all my thoughts into this single, solitary post wasn't going to work. This is especially true since my thoughts on ALL these issues are vague at best. What's say we see if I can express myself adequately on just a couple of thoughts, 'kay?
(I and some classmates watch Amy Poelher rapping as Sarah Palin on SNL. Photo courtesy of Stacy Kagiwada. That's why it's in focus.)
The second week of October I attended my twentieth college reunion. I'd attended -and enjoyed- my tenth and fifteenth reunions, but to be honest I had viewed this one with more trepidation. Much as I joke about having a mid-life crisis, I think in many ways that's exactly what I've been experiencing (ugh, how cliché), and anticipating the reunion brought some of that to a head for me. I feared going back and having nothing to show, hell, nothing to SAY about the last five years of my life. I dreaded the question "what are you up to these days?" Again, I'll spare you all the thoughts that hypothetical question elicited, let's just acknowledge that I had the fears, but did attend, and I'm glad I did.
Like most rituals in our society these days, reunions don't come with a lot of ready-made traditions, but maybe that's just as well. It means we're responsible for choosing what activities seem most appropriate, in short deciding for ourselves and our communities what this ritual is supposed to commemorate. The school had plenty planned for all the classes, then the planning board for class of '88 scheduled several more. Often my favorite part was just running into people and sitting down to talk. The best event though was the big dinner Saturday night. After the meal, each person was given an opportunity to say what he or she had gotten from the experience of Earlham.
Whoo boy, did this process run the risk embarrassment and/or tedium. I think there were well over fifty members of our class in attendance, did we REALLY want everyone to talk about such a broad topic? The fact is though, I never found myself wishing someone would sit down and shut up. (If anyone felt that way about me, at least I was brief.) I suspect the years of 18-22 are formative ones for most people, no matter where they find themselves at that point. Nonetheless there was a sense from most people in the room that we had been given a special gift by our college experience. There were many buzzwords flying about shaped by our particular institution -diversity, peace, consensus, to name a few - but what moved me was how real, specific, and grounded people's comments were with these terms. People talked about the ideals they took away with them, and how those ideals shaped and continue to shape their life choices. This was an articulate group, and one made up of people doing interesting, admirable things, whether that be in the work they do, the relationships they build, the children they raise, the communities they seek out, or all of the above. There was plenty of reminiscing, as one would expect at a reunion, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many people talked about feeling not just nostalgic, but rejuvenated by the weekend. Many of us felt a sense of tapping back into some fundamental values, of returning to a well-spring, taking a good long drink, and returning to our present lives recommitted to living our ideals. Perhaps because of our years, I also think there was a greater awareness of how hard that can be, how little progress we may see, how small or ineffectual our efforts may seem... yet they're still worth doing. They still matter.
I have written here before about how I have no patience with cynicism. Despair I get. Pessimism even makes sense to me, though I try not to succumb to it. Cynicism though, that's really just despair or pessimism turned into an excuse to give up, masked by a pose of superiority. One stops pursuing one's ideals, and tries to turn it into evidence that one is smarter than everyone else. Coming from a place as idealistically driven as Earlham College, I've seen a lot of what I call 'naíve idealists' come out into the world, only to become deeply cynical. These folks have very poor understandings of the obstacles they're up against, simplistic views of both problems and solutions... and often inflated beliefs that they will single-handedly change the world. Some of my classmates spoke wryly and eloquently about having been such people right after graduation, before they came to recognize that while things weren't going to be as easy as they originally thought, the ideals were still sound and worth committing to. Many of them also mentioned having a greater appreciation for the idealistic efforts of their professors, now that they understood the effort involved.
I'm talking in such generalities, and my point is, this weekend was filled with many people talking about specifics in a way I found inspiring. I was reminded that it's worthy to seek work that is both socially responsible and personally satisfying, and while money is a fine thing, it's not a replacement for either quality. I was reminded of how strong bonds can be, despite long years of separation or geographical distance. I was reminded of what a luxury it is to be able to share intellectual, emotional, political, artistic and spiritual concerns with a single person, or even an entire ROOM full of people. I don't mean we all agreed on every issue, but we all agreed that each topic is valuable, and entwined with all the others. I am lucky; I do still have this in my daily life, with a handful of people. I even have it with my family members. But it was still refreshing to share it with that many people that night.
So that was the reunion. I'm still not really communicating my thoughts very well, but let's move on.
This past weekend I attended the wedding of my friends Jeff and Megan, in their home state of Virginia. While I have all sorts of questions and reservations about the institution of marriage, long time readers of this here blog know I was VERY excited about and supportive of this particular wedding. I've been friends with Jeff for just over seven years, Megan for slightly less time, so at this wedding I was very much one of the new kids. Most of the guests were family members or high school friends; I suspect most people in the room had known one or both of these crazy, fabulous kids for at least fifteen years. What was fun about that for me was realizing that the qualities I had fallen in love with in the two of them were the same things that had drawn their older friends. Maybe I wasn't around for enough of the reminiscences to hear anything surprising (I know Megan's father heard some fifteen year old stories that caused him to tell her at the rehearsal dinner that she was grounded), but what I heard about each of them squared nicely with the person I know. I feel my sense of each person's core was confirmed by his or her friends. Naturally this also meant I connected with some new people too; if you value the same qualities in a person, you're likely to find things to value in each other.
But while there was obviously a certain amount of looking back this weekend, the real purpose was to forge and celebrate a new bond. That's what I was there for, in any case, and Jeff's blog entry tells me he felt similarly. Marriage is such a weird phenomenon in that it is a public celebration of what is, in many ways, a very private bond. Or maybe what is so tricky about it as an institution, especially these days, is the fact that each couple establishes for itself what the bond is to be, how it affects their lives, how it shapes their choices, how it manifests in their community. This is the first wedding I've attended since my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary. I also attended it with the sense that Proposition 8 in California was going to pass (I knew the other state bills would). Obviously this meant I had a lot of thoughts on the issue, and once again, I'm not articulating them very well. The bottom line is, though, I went to this celebration with no reservations whatsoever. I knew that Jeff and Megan had asked themselves and each other why this was a good step, and I knew that any unconscious, knee-jerk, societally conditioned response had been carefully examined, answered or discarded as their consciences dictated. I was excited about the occasion, honored at being asked to participate, and happy to be part of a new community forged by it. I may never see most of those people again, and I'm sure I'll never again be with all of them at once, but that doesn't change the fact that in coming together to witness this bond, we helped create something new, something that will change two people, and with any luck, each of us as well.
Hm. As I read back through this, I realize part of the reason I've had such trouble writing this entry is because I'm tackling some big, grand concepts, and feeling like everything I say is rather hackneyed or saccharine. Committing to social justice, meaningful work, community, family, nature, all this boils down to that most over-used, degraded of words, Love. I want to use that word, knowing that doing so fails to communicate the very specific, quirky, muscular vigor of it as I experienced it this past month. The moments I experienced this feeling were often small. I saw a dear friend holding the child she has dreamed of for over twenty years. I listened to another friend talk about challenging a colleague's homophobia, and how that led to a deep friendship and shared commitment to civil rights. I took lousy photograph after lousy photograph of good people. I listened to classmate (now an accomplished poet and college professor) remember hearing one of his professors read A Child's Christmas in Wales, and how this led to an epiphany regarding the power of words. I bonded with strangers using timeless traditions like dancing, eating, and drinking. I held hands with classmates and reveled in the resonant power of shared silence.
Love, at its most primal, feels both ubiquitous and brand new. There was a lot of that for me, this month.
Okay, still not quite getting it, but more than any other entry I can remember, I've felt like this one HAD to be written in some fashion, before I could move on. It's odd for me to feel blocked concerning the blog. Generally I have felt quite free to babble to my heart's content, and trust that anyone uninterested could click on something better. Maybe this is the first olive out of the jar, as I speculated at top. For now though, I'll leave it here.
(Photo courtesy of Dan Heflin. Yup, this one is in focus too. Shut up.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunday: Inwood Hill Park

Saturday we had a torrential storm. Central Park got nearly an inch of rain. It was one of my favorite kinds of rainy days, with the drops big enough to make noise on the windows and roof. It was easy to justify staying in my sweats all day, exerting myself only enough to walk down to the lobby for the newspaper.

When Sunday dawned, the previous day's storm had taken all the moisture out of the air; the temperature was in the middle 60s. The light was that gorgeous, autumnal kind where the shadows are diamond-cut sharp. It was a Maxfield Parrish kind of day. I had to get out in it. It was warm enough not to need a coat, but I was covered up enough that I didn't need to coat myself with a layer of shellac before going out. This is one of the times of year when I actually seek out the sunlight.

I went back to Inwood Hill Park, the place my friend Cheryl showed me earlier this month. It is yet another side of the old growth forest I've explored with Melissa on a few occasions. As Cheryl said during our walk, it's fun to imagine that this area probably hasn't changed much since Europeans first showed up. Maybe it's not true, but it's fun to think. (I'll post a proper entry about that lovely walk soon.)

I felt for a moment like I was in Tuscany when I saw this. On a day like today, even the Bronx looks magical.
Inwood Hill Park has old growth oak-hickory forest, meadow, and as seen above, a salt marsh. It reminded me of my first visit to Greg's. The white dots under the bridge are a flock of Canada geese. They seem to be following -rather than creating- a curving gap in the low tide sludge. Maybe they're following a current of deeper flowing water.
There was a bit of a work-out to the climb, but after my lethargic Saturday, it was welcome.
I think I found my new home! Okay, it's a bit of a fixer-upper, lacking electricity, running water, plumbing and a roof, but for my price range those are probably always going to be problems, and you should see the view. I imagine the thirty-minute walk to the subway and grocery store will be a pain in the winter but at least it's down hill when you leave. I think I'm willing to pay that price for this location. I've walked farther for far less scenic residences.
Autumn colors are still preliminary here; there was just a hint from time to time. A lot of the trees are still green, but there's also lots of leaves on the ground already.

Recognize this, Melissa? Yup, it's our old look-out spot. My dad is probably looking at this and thinking 1) Patrick is about to fall to his death and 2) He's standing there just to spite me. I'd try to reassure him, but the fact is he'd still prefer that none of his children ever cross the street without him, or use any utensil sharper than a soup spoon. Breathe, Dad, I made it out alive.
Oh how I wish I could do justice to the experience of this tree! This photo almost captures the deep blue of the sky, but it does nothing to show just how many different shades of gold there were in the leaves, nor how captivating it was to watch them shimmer in the wind. And of course it does nothing to give you the song of the leaves. I stood here for a long time, took lots of photos, even used my camera's video feature to record its dance, but no luck. You'll just have to take my word for it.

I took the long way back, taking the A train to West 135th and St. Nicholas Avenue, then walking home by way of St. Nicholas Park and City College. This is the view exiting the station. .

Yesterday was almost as beautiful, and today we're back to glum and rainy. Good thing, because I've got to do laundry, and make final preparations for the weekend. Man, this has been a good month.