Monday, February 12, 2007

I'd give anything for one more hour of light

I got a call this weekend from a young woman who lives here and is moving to New York City to make her way as a writer. Her call took me back to the days of foreign telegrams and the all-night rock and rolling. We was wild then.

I'm channeling Michelle Shocked here, of course, from her song Anchorage, one of my favorite songs ever. I once had an argument with a friend from Wellesley about this song. At the time, I was a reporter at LIFE magazine and living my version of a skateboard punk-rocker in New York City.

My friend, a former housewife, was a single mother working like a dog to finish her degree from Wellesley. Her days of foreign telegrams were all ahead of her, and she latched onto the housewife lines: "I sound like a housewife / hey, 'Chel, I think I'm a housewife." She just heard "housewife" and decided the song was sad and the letterwriter was depressed. I, who had never been a housewife but who fully expected to become a mother some day, took a longer view, that life changes and one day I'll outgrow my current experiences and move on from this place into something else.

Later, when I became a mother living in Brooklyn, essentially a housewife with a part-time job and my wild life over, I still related to the song. Even today I do, I think in part because I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with being a housewife, nor do I see it as being the final experience of my life. I like how my life has changed, how I am now living in the Happy Valley with my husband and daughter, looking for work, making new friends, and building community.

My friend Shante says she sees that we have made a decision based on our desire to see who and how we are elsewhere, out of New York City. I think that's right. We are finding out who we are outside of this mythical city that I so identified with for so long. (I think perhaps Lily wasn't done finding herself in the city, but I know she can return when she's older.) And guess what? I'm still me! No matter where you go, there you are.

I'm reminded of this song as I try to help my new aquaintance make happen her version of The Dream in La Grande Pomme. We talked a long time on the phone on Saturday afternoon. I want so much for her to experience the glory and charge of New York City so I try not be too much of a downer about how expensive it is and how hard it is to come by a decent job. There's no guarantee of making it, whatever that even means, and maybe everyone should spend at least a year in New York City during their lifetime.

But I also find myself feeling a sense of poignancy talking to her, a kind of mourning, perhaps, for the life that I had. I truly do not miss it. I'm about to be 46 at the end of the month and I am too old for the New York City that I enjoyed in my youth. I don't want to live there now, and although this transition period is hard, I wouldn't have it any other way. I love my new, unfolding life, and mostly, I love my family, my daughter and my husband, and I love how we are pioneers making our way in this strange new land where you can see stars, and the horizon.

For some reason I've also been flashing on the Elgin Marbles, too, the one that depicts the moment that Atlas has returned to Heracles with the Golden Apples. Heracles has taken the heavens from Atlas, as he is the only one able to collect the apples. Very soon, Heracles will trick Atlas into taking back his burden. But for a brief moment, he gazes at the precious apples that will allow him to complete the 11th task, while Atlas gazes at Heracles and the possibility of a life now that he no longer shoulders the heavens.

This frieze used to make me feel a bit anxious for Heracles -- hurry up, give him the heavens and get the Hades out of there! -- but now I feel I'm more of an Atlas. I've had my glory. I am shouldering my responsibilities, a better life for my child, my husband, and a better remainder of my life, I suspect.

And with that, one more song comes to mind, May I Suggest by Susan Werner, as sung by Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert. Here's the last verse:

This is a song
Comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
With a request
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run
And when they're gone
And when the dark descends
Oh we'd give anything for one more hour of light

And I suggest this is the best part of your life

This woman is young and energetic and an awesome writer. She's been a beat reporter for the Hampshire Gazette and she's about to go on tour with the Sister Spit group. She's ready to work a crummy job if she has to in order to pay her dues and break into the writer's world. I've given her some names of my friends who are working journalists and if you have any ideas, send 'em on and I'll forward them to her.

Keep on rocking, girl. Keep on rocking.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Climbing mountains

"Oh, life, so this is what you are!"
-- Michael Blumenthal (one of my favorite poets ever)

Two landmarks I want to acknowledge at the top here: One is my friend Shante has a new CD out, her first. She is an incredibly talented hip-hop artist/phd candidate/actor/etc. I love her to pieces and this is really great stuff.

The second thing I am so proud of is that Katharsis Theater Company, the one I started with Henry Wishcamper in May 2005, has extended its first show, The Polish Play, another week. All the reviews are incredible, including a fabulous front-of-the-book review in The New Yorker. Simply producing a play in less than two years of founding is a mark of distinction. And this show, a combination of Macbeth and Ubu Roi (see the website for more details) is really great theater, funny, current, fantastic acting and production values: Henry's wife, Jenny Mannis, did the costumes and they are extraordinary. The puppets are gorgeous; the set; the lights; the Foley sound is hilarious (you gotta see it). I urge anyone interested in theater to see it.

There's another mountain Dave, Lily, and I conquered recently -- literally. That's Mount Sugarloaf in Deerfield. We were driving back from an open house at the Greenfield Center School last Sunday afternoon, at about 3:30 p.m. We had at least another hour or more of light and as we passed by the Mount Sugarloaf parking lot I said, let's walk up that! We could, Dave said tentatively, and I turned into the lot at the last possible moment.

We had meant to climb this our first week here when our friend George was driving us around, but hadn't had the time. Having spontaneously gone on a hike a couple of weeks ago at about the same time -- Dave and Lily were skiing -- I have had some recent experience with trying out trails at the end of the day. That time I had walked some trails off Pelham Road that lead to the Frost Trail, and gotten good and lost. The sun was sinking fast and I periodically called various out-of-town friends on my cell phone, ostensibly to say hi but always managing to include that I am a bit lost and all alone and the sun's going down but I think I'm okay.

I kept walking onto the back 40 of various farms, and every time I did I would think, oh, the helicopter could land here when they airlift me out. It was a bit ridiculous because I could see Northeast Street a half mile or so across the fields, and I knew that I was less than a mile from Pelham Road, where I had parked. But I was alone, it was getting cold, I kept hearing an owl hooting at me from a nearby pine (they are kinda scary but I felt privileged to hear it) and once I got back into the woods it was really dark. It's times like these that I really feel like a city slicker and I wonder if I will ever feel truly comfortable away from pavement and cars and electricity.

But this time, at the foot of Sugarloaf's southern peak, it was still early, there's a paved road to the summit, and I wasn't alone, so I was a bit more reassured we could make it back alive. We started out on the path alongside the road that gently winds most of its way to the top. Dave and I had hiking boots on but Lily was wearing snow boots. At first she complained and I didn't blame her one bit. But, mirabile dictu, my city child is turning into an outdoorsy one! After awhile she got into the hang of things -- the two people walking three dogs near us helped -- and when the trail rejoined the road near the summit and we said we could go back down now, she was the one who insisted on continuing. "It's the steep part, Mama!" she said. "I like the steep part!"

We wound our way up through the thining trees and came out on one fenced-in vista to protect us from tumbling over the massive rocky cliffs we could see from the road. We were looking out over the Connecticut River and beyond. Directly below were houses and farms, and we counted swimming pools awhile. We knew there were some buildings at the top, though, and we knew we weren't there yet. So we kept on, finally bursting onto a large grassy area with a tower with a couple of viewing platforms.

Climbing the spiral staircase inside made Lily long for our Brooklyn apartment briefly, but the view at the top took everyone's breath and all thoughts of Brooklyn away. Laid out before us, with that golden light of the almost gone sun, was the entire Pioneer Valley stretching off past Sunderland and the Amherst highrises to Hadley and the Holyoke Range beyond. To the west was Deerfield and Whately and the roads leading into the Hilltowns. To the north was more Deerfield, and then Greenfield, and what I assume is Vermont and the foothills of the Green Mountains.

We gazed awhile and then walked back down the road, Lily sucking on massive icicles she'd yanked off the rocks edging the road. What a joy this is! With just an hour or so to kill we pull off the road on the recommendation of a friend and after a brief hike we come out on this extraordinary view, the Pioneer Valley equivalent of the Empire State Building. At this point in my life I'd rather look at mountains and rivers.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

News of the (mid) week

Molly Ivins, RIP

Here's the first hot flash - We finally got a car. We've been driving a 1994 Geo Prizm with 104,000 miles on it. It's been a great car but the door is rusting off and the gearshift is failing -- it's a standard transmission -- so the ride is really jerky.

Today, after a couple of years of lusting -- sometimes I think I moved to Amherst just so I could buy a station wagon -- we got a 2006 silver Subaru Outback with charcoal gray interior. It's got a heated windshield and side mirrors, a wiper on the rear window, and heated front seats. Heated front seats! Who ever heard of that! I thought those only came in Porsches and with leather seats, which this does not have. These butt-warmers will be lovely on those 10-degree mornings; I can't wait.

Dave drove it home from the dealer and said, you know those speed bumps by Amherst College? You don't even notice them in this car. It's warm, roomy, warm, comfortable, warm, and apparently easy to drive -- I haven't dared yet. Well, we just got it. Did I mention the heat works really well? It also has one of those LED dials that tells you how many more miles you can drive before you need to fill up. I feel like I'm on the Star Trek set.

We'll keep the Prizm for now, and fix it and use it for what we called in the old country a station car. Dave hankers for a hybrid, so maybe that's next. Meanwhile he got another booster seat for Lily and now we are a two-car family. How bizarre. How ungreen of me, I know, but we do need a reliable car here.

The second big piece of news is that Lily finally made it onto the ski lift last Wednesday and went on an even bigger hill yesterday. Dave said it was kinda scary, steep and icy, and mostly man-made snow. Lily took a tumble at one point and Dave skiied down and found her crying, with one ski here and another one over there. She was fine but had had the wind knocked out of her and she was afraid she'd broken her leg. One more week of lessons to go, and she's still having a ball. This is also why we moved here, along with the bird's nest she found outside our door recently that now resides on our piano.

The third news item is that while they were skiing yesterday I was off getting our skates sharpened. There's only one place north of Springfield, apparently, now that Fenton's in Amherst has lost their lease. That's F. J. Rogers Co. in Florence. I was over in Northampton anyway so I stopped by and had the deed done by the owner.

While I was there I noticed the rack of hockey sticks, and remembering my dream in elementary school, got a puck and each of us a stick. I am a terrible skater, as I've mentioned, and I figured, and the salesman agreed, that having a stick in my hand could help my balance and give me something to do on the ice. So, who knows, maybe I will actually learn to skate.

Finally, Lily had her first dentist appointment here. No news to report there, except that it's stressful to do everything for the first time. It took me several weeks to work up the courage to try a new hair sylist, and she not only did a fine job and I got lots of compliments afterwards, but it cost $22!

Today the car salesman asked us if we missed New York City, and with a very quick beat we both said no. Yup, there's stress, but it's still okay, and we have faith this will work for us, that it is working for us.