Adventures in Western Mass

Ashfield

The annual family Girlscout camping trip tradition is a family favorite. I didn’t grow up camping, but I married an eagle scout, and I was one of the original scout leaders of our local troop so, it never much felt as if I had a choice. I was a slow-adopter to the camping hoopla. Reluctantly, I’d go on the trip and never regret it. I say, reluctantly, because these outings happen in June, which is the prime month for all the end of the school year activities. Never regret it, because it’s always delightful. We sing, make fires, cook as a community, we visit with other parents, and experience the world through our daughters as they take in the kind of freedom that only nature can give.

2019 was the best camping trip yet.

In backseat our scout and her bestie kept themselves busy with their phones and were clearly looking forward to the trip; they would set up our tent and sleep, along with the other scouts, inside the main house. My eagle scout and I caught up as we do on long drives.

Typically, we opt for a state park, but this time we camped in Ashfield, Massachusetts on the grounds of the home of one our Troop-leaders. Not only is the property gorgeous (the superlative doesn’t do it justice), open, and straightforward, but it also reflects the beautiful character of the people who love it. Headed there from Boston, on I-84, there was a moment in which we left everything behind: the pace, the disappointments, the noise. All of the hamster wheeling and overwhelming feelings of powerlessness over the crap that usually befalls us, melted into the background as we entered green, lush spaces that completely enveloped us. That region, a friend said later has “an incredible green-to- human quotient.” He is right. He got married in Eastern Mass, in an elegant mansion, he and his bride remain a genuine vision of hip, good people. Back then, quite pregnant, and happy about it, I remember fawning at the region. It had hit me but not like it hit me during this latest trip.

Ashfield shines not because of all the natural beauty alone. The people are welcoming; they care about the right stuff. There’s a local theater company that does impressive immersive work, a farmer’s market, a preservation society, good coffee, and a great pond. Drive anywhere in any direction, and you’ll undoubtedly be surprised at what pops out and never miss anything you ever thought you needed.

 

 

Guitar from last night
Next morning…

The rain has been a constant this summer, and we saw some in the forecast, but it didn’t matter. At night, the sky crisp with fresh air let us open the fly of the tent to see an expanse of stars, constellations, and planets, each one taking turns to brighten up the dark. We were under an umbrella covered in infinite lights. I wanted to take it all in, swallow every single moment of the sky, the breeze and my guy next to me, patiently hearing me fawn over every unencumbered deep breath that I took in. It was hard to go to sleep. By the time I caught my second shooting star, I was ready to close my eyes to the rhythmic sound of our night, remembering the dancing fireflies floating all around us. I know that I have fallen in love with New England land before; it happened in Vermont. That much is true. It was during my stay at my gorgeous and talented writer friend’s place. Few places have a massive waterfall in a backyard, and rushing water is one of my favorite sounds. It’s not that I am a serial New England land-dater. But if I am, who cares?

While the kids went to a rope’s course, those of us who enjoy firmer ground went out to explore. We were doing our thing until it was time to meet back at the lake for an afternoon swim and some paddleboarding.

Highlights:

The lavender festival

Shelburne Falls

 

 

 

Shelburne Falls is quaint an has the Bridge of Flowers, which is such a labor of love by volunteers.

We had to stop at a bookstore. A family tradition that started by our eldest bookworm. And I had Japanese jelly coffee for the first time. It was yum.

The meal and jelly coffee were from the excellent charming restaurant Delicatesse. We also shopped for fun stuff at the local grocers.

What makes my heart jump into the reckless love affair must be the mega pause button I push when the open green spaces displace the daily and disconnected living we do. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wake, work, manage, remember to enjoy and be grateful and laugh at what I can, sleep. Do it again the next day at lightning speed. It must be a sign that this stuff manager, who works hard for her money,  needs to reach for the green permanently. I have our small city deck, parks around where I live, bodies of water, and unblocked open spaces. Those work, they will do in a pinch. These other spaces, though? Those have staying power. I need to do more than an intermittent forest bathing; I need to change my life.

 

Back to Boston
Leaving a big storm behind to freshen up all the lush green of the region.

 

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Kick off to the Stuff Manager

Tuesday. I finished an editing project that was delightful and important. The Cambridge Women’s Commission hired me to copyedit, and I couldn’t have been prouder to be associated with what they do. I’ll tell you about it once it’s ready for primetime. This means I’ll claim most of my summer days for writing and for finding a way to my brain. It’s going to be a great ride. The essays I’ve been compiling for the Stuff Manager are finally happening. The research for them and other projects have bugged me for years. The pressure for accountability is real. Now that I have told you, my million readers, about this next step: it will happen. You will keep me honest, won’t you?

Here is an example of stuff I manage: Finding things.

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P.S. Happy News. She was found, and her head made it back to her body. My husband recuperated the photos she was keeping, some of those our youngest took in Barcelona. Backstory: We bought this camera/android Barbie because we thought it was all sorts of crazy over-the-top surveillance gadget for children. Plus, it appealed to my penchant for ‘things that aren’t what they are’ or ‘things that are what they aren’t.  We all had fun taking silly 3-megapixel photos and forgot about it.  So, during a search for something else, the doll resurfaced.  We could tell there were photos in her but couldn’t extract the images. Our youngest thought it’d be cool to take her head off, hand it back to the Barbie (sans platter). Once a suitable cable came to us via Amazon, I got the text you see above there.

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Trying to find the link for the Barbie I came across this disturbing (and fabulous)  Pinterest page.  Barbie is an extreme-fantasy facilitator.

Here are some gems we discovered.

 

The Stuff Manager Continues

I taught Zero to Memoir at GrubStreet. I know that if you’ve ever struck up a conversation with me about writing you’ve heard me rant and rave about how GrubSteet is magical.  It’s a blast for me to teach there. I get to use my Creative Writing background and ninja skills to in front of a group of students who all choose to be there. It’s a different audience by far from my college students. Do I ever love teaching the Zero to Memoir class! The students who show up are at different places in their writing. Most of them though are looking to a path forward. I try to point them in some direction, give them a bit of craft, and a lot of encouragement. I learn something new every time, and I incorporate that into my teaching practice and course content. I try to give offer some paths forward after we all leave the Grub space. My greatest let down is to leave a class or conference and have all that adrenaline to go to a place where it withers and dies. That is real. I give them some goal posts they can follow through later about both working on a project, and building writing practice. That is the stuff I preach (won’t follow the advice). 15 folks registered for the course. Keep coming people, I honestly do enjoy teaching you what I can.

I wanted to teach some long-term classes at GrubStreet, but this was not the semester to do it. I am teaching a 10-week class over the summer, which is another favorite to teach: Go There: Writing about Difficult Subject Matter. Want to register for it? Do it here:

Go There Writing About Difficult Subject Matter

We’ve covered so much in this class: #metoo, political divides, racism, trauma, mourning, divorce, illness, family conflicts, mental illness, sexuality, and gender.

The Stuff Manager -Title of my Collection of Essays-

As I work on a full manuscript, and on a collection of essays (the Stuff Manager). I am going to pretend for a moment here that I have so many readers who are wondering what I’ve been up to lately, I must explain to each of them where I’ve been and what the heck I’ve been doing.

Consider these following posts a tour of where my brain has been these past few months. Unlike a formal journey, where the itinerary is plotted with concern for geographical direction or chronology,  I will instead guide you erratically, because that is how I can find documentation that ultimately informs this post.

As you (my thousands of imaginary follower and bots ) know, I teach at the New England Conservatory of Music. It’s invariably funny when folks ask me, rightfully so, which instrument I teach,  I’ll say “no, I teach composition,” which in itself is confusing because you know: music composing. Students at a conservatory have the option of working towards bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees. Like in any other institutions, this means that a core Liberal Arts curriculum, along with languages, math and sciences are required to graduate. So I teach undergraduate courses in the Liberal Arts Department. Plus, I tutor graduate, undergraduate, and doctoral students at the Writing Center.  This semester, which usually to be the lighter kind, I taught three classes, which meant that at any given time I was grading 48 pieces of writing, which included process writing, long essays, and research projects. Teaching at a place that cranks out virtuosos, and which just has inaugurated its first female president, is pretty satisfying.

Walking through our hallways, the lovely sounds of music practice fill the air. At times a jazz ensemble riffs together, and on the opposite side of the hall, students belt out their arias. If you walk outdoors on a warm day, students in dorms, with windows open are all in some state of practice. There’s a cacophony of instruments, none of them forming any melody, but you can hear them all individually through the cracked – open windows.

all classrooms have at least one piano and at times 2 or 3 for students practices during non-instruction hours.

When I am fortunate enough to go to Jordan Hall campus for anything, the melodies, I hear become more unified as students practice in their ensembles. We get to be at the sumptuous Jordan Hall for convocations and other formal events, and it’s always surprising to see all the new architectural details that I hadn’t noticed before. Recently, I attended the presidential inauguration in full regalia, and the ceremony was quite moving.

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Ludwig says “hey!”

Though I can attend free concerts, I haven’t made it to one, because, you know; busy. So now I’ve strayed and need to get back to what I was telling you about back there. The teaching, which is my full-time job, took the most bandwidth. That, along with heading a literary project for the Liberal Arts Department, which I’ll tell you about as well.

The thing though is that it has been a tough semester with lots of interference from the universe, a whole lot of my messing with what should be a simple schedule by adding more things I am interested in, teaching in other places, leading writing groups, or editorial projects that come my way. Then, there’s just life which is continually finding ways to surprise me. Thanks, life! I am not facetious, other than the crapstorm brewing in Washington DC. I am genuinely grateful for what I have.

 

 

 

 

Hear Here!

The 9th edition of  NEC’s Liberal Arts Literary Journal

 

2019 HH V.4 (dragged)
Came into the world, reluctantly on April 25th of 2019.

 

Wow, this project kicked my butt, but then I kicked the project right back into submission, which incidentally collected a ton of submissions so that my student editors, who I managed, had great material from which to choose. Sometimes we met as a group, students worked independently, and faculty helped proofread. Frankly, one, in particular, was so eagle-eyed that she was instrumental in genuinely getting the edition ready for primetime. For a while there I figured the 9th edition had to be cursed. Every conceivable thing that could go wrong with Hear Here! just did. The project took over my weekends, my evenings, and I transformed me into a crazed person every time I needed the group to comply with a deadline. The project start to finish took seven months in human time, but in worry time it took a million times that. I was spent when it was all done. I am still recuperating to enjoy how successful it was entirely. I am, however, documenting the experience because I want to present on the value of this project at a conference or two.

 

So there it is. Part 1 folks. Next stop? Who knows but it’s coming soon.

 

Fix It

 

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The chandelier’s original home

My husband is a fixer-upper, and I am a throw-away-er.  He’s an engineer who figures out how things work, so fixing something that doesn’t work is his default setting.  If I see a chip on non-essential stuff I can’t wait to get rid of it. So while S tests batteries with a volt meter to ensure he’s gotten the last bit of juice left in them, I put my moribund batteries straight to a bin and let them accumulate for years.

For all of our differing opinions on what to keep and what to chuck, we agree that understanding family history and preserving it is precious to us. S has dedicated himself to cataloging his father’s exhaustive work in economics, computers, information productivity technology, management, family history, the Holocaust, and cybersecurity. In 2003, when my mother died, I instinctively asked to keep her letters, papers, and address books. I am still trying to go through all of the boxes.

A couple of years ago, we visited my in-laws and were tasked with getting rid of S’s high school and early college stuff out of their basement. S and I spent hours sifting through boxes and in the process of seeing all of his paraphernalia, some of his old toys, piano books, and correspondence with a high school sweetheart; I fell in love with him all over again. Through the pictures and the objects, I understood more about who he was before I met him. I told him that if he had asked me out, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.

On the way out of the basement, my father in law pointed to a light fixture that was gathering dust in a dark corner and asked us “You want to take that too?” S remembered it being in the same place for years. We admired it and replied that we’d think about it. Every time we’d go visit they’d offer us something to bring back, and we’d say yes, but this gorgeous chandelier was more than trunk space: It was a project.

The designer is Gaetano Sciolari

Back home after having seen we had a lighting void in our living room, we decided to bring the fixture back with us from New Canaan to Boston. Looking at the chandelier up close we noticed corroded and bumpy metal and discovered some white matte plastic inserts. For good measure, my inlaws threw in matching sconces they must have bought with the chandelier.  So it began: the light fixture moved from their basement into ours where it sat forever until we’d remember from time to time that we had to it repair once we found someone who knew something about re-chroming.

The chandelier became another task that we stuffed in the back of an already crowded basement along with all the art that needs framing, the dollhouse that is a daddy-daughter project, and other unique treasures that I picked up on neighborhood trash days. We still knew little about the light fixture, but we hoped to muster the energy to fix it.  Then we met Seth from Rare Restoration, a place that feels like real magic could happen at any time, and it does. Rare is a curated assortment of antiques, a haven for restoration and a repair haven filled with possibilities of resurrecting the most defunct and cherished objects you own.

 

Peek into Rare’s fantastic world.

Seth took the fixture from us and quickly learned that it wasn’t chrome. The darn thing is silver-plated! By the time we got the fixture back from Seth, he had shined it, cleaned it from the inside out removing all the corrosion.  As he wiped some of the pieces, Seth discovered some broken pieces of plastic, and we remembered then that we had the sconces. Problem solved. We mined the sconces for a couple of the white panels, and we got the fixture back good as new.  The next step was to hang it, so we hired a skillful electrician to do the job.

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It took a pretty tall ladder to get the chandelier to its new home.

The living room situation is still not where we’d like for it to be. We have 25-year-old furniture with lovely bones and saggy covers that once were super-hip.  Art sits on the floor keeping our plants company.  After years of basement dwelling, another inherited piece of furniture has gotten love and care from Seth’s staff at Rare and is finally hanging on the wall.

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So no we’re not done, but when we sit on the couch in front of a fire and read by the glow of our chandelier, we appreciate how lucky we are.  A little piece of family history keeps us connected to the past as we create new memories of our own. All the while our chandelier continues to shed light some of our paths.

 

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Celebrating our 13-year old’s birthday.

Sure we have aspirations for something a bit more like this room, but so far we are contented just the way things are.

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Imagine with me that this is my bedroom. It actually belongs to Plastolux.

 

 

Meant To Be: an Instagram ‘like’ Story

I first noticed Cure thrift shop the first time I dropped my eldest at NYU. Trying to keep track of a lot of moving parts and moving stuff,  we drove past the shop and spied a bunch of funky mannequins, great furniture, doodads, and some rugs. I was smitten, but couldn’t go in. Our visits to the city rushed and packed with stuff to do, conspired to keep me away and so instead, I followed on Instagram.  Once during one of our rushed visits, my patient husband found a questionable legal spot to park and stayed with the car so I could go inside the store and browse.

I fell obsessively in like with two things: One, a typewriter which I swiftly talked myself out buying because I had a similar one already. I kicked myself about that for a while and eventually forgot about it. The other one was in my future.

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One day, while checking up on the Cure’s Instagram account I spied this little girl’s image (on the right) and she spoke to me (not in the magical-realism way) but I instantly liked her. I dm’ed the store and after asking about shipping, I got no response.  I thought about her often. I was a bit obsessed with the creative force which designed the Lokal Hotel and wanted to borrow some of their aesthetic for another soon-to-be unfinished decorating project.

 

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I came to NYC again, this time for moving our kid out of her dorm and it was raining like crazy.  I stopped in at the thrift shop for 2 hot seconds. It had been at least 6 months since I saw the print and I looked around for it but she was gone.  I tried to find a similar one, even buying a look-alike in an antique shop in Montpelier, Vermont. What I got was a photograph of a woman looking away from the camera, her gaze steely and somewhat vacant. A the time my kids wondered why I was getting prints of people who I didn’t know to hang in our home and it was too hard to explain. I was happy with my purchase but it was only a replacement for the print I really wanted. I had seen the print flash on the Cure’s feed once more, but I wistfully closed my phone instead of attempting to contact them again.

I’ve always had a connection to old photographs. There is an appeal to what memories they keep and I like wondering about what stories these people in these images created.  It’s a bit like going into their pasts an eavesdropping into a small part of their lives. Photographs play a big part in my upbringing and my theory is, that we had so much tragedy in our lives a photograph could capture joy and predictability and preserve those impressions for later just like pickled veggies for the winter time. On the more superficial level, however, remember: I had a decorating project  (number a million or so) which to date remains unfinished.

Well, it’s June 2018 and I am in NYC again. This time, I am alone and staying at my daughter’s apartment in the East Village. It’s been fun, trying to follow her advice for places to go. I like imagining what she sees daily as she goes out and pokes in to buy groceries around the corner or coffee at the cool place down her street. I’m mainly just exploring. She’s above a restaurant bar and the place transforms at night. Once the afternoon falls, the outfits get nicer and St. Marks place gets a bit of a mild Bourbon St. vibe and people definitely party late into the night.

I returned to the Cure thriftshop finally seizing the opportunity of being completely alone and without any pressing commitments. I saw another typewriter and decided to pass on it. It had a small crack and the fact that it was a bright canary yellow almost made up for the defect.

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Yes, the tiny crack on the space bar…and also how was I going to walk for 10 NYC blocks in 100-degree weather?

I poked around some more and while sliding hangers to get a closer look at the bodice of a shirt I liked, hiding behind a whole row of dresses was the print! I squashed the dresses off to one side of the rack and bent down to make sure I wasn’t seeing something else.

I went to the front and asked the salesperson about the incognito print in case it was hidden so well for a reason. I imagined that someone could have been holding it and wanted it out of sight. “Show me, ” he said as I made my way down the back of the store missing a hidden step once again but quickly getting my balance back. “Here!” I pointed and didn’t want to go indecorously go back digging behind the dresses. I saw him part the dresses like a theater curtain. “Oh, her?”  I was nervous he’d tell me that “her” was not destined to be mine. After all, twice she had been shown to the world on Instagram, and maybe she was part of some special collection that was attached to the shop, like the art on some of the walls. “Sorry, these are not for sale” some groovy objects were part of that sign.

My Cure man took the print out and held “her” in front of him wistfully looking at it as if a couple of memories came back.  “I posted the picture. I post all of our pictures for the feed.” he kept looking at her. “Do you want to buy it?” “Yes!” I would. I’ve never had a good poker face and asked for a discount. I could have tried a detached look of some sort to get a better deal,  but instead, I grinned and walked over to the register.  The Cure uses proceeds from sales to help diabetes research, so even if I was good at haggling, it wouldn’t feel right. I paid for my print and he tried unsuccessfully to find a bag that would fit. I hadn’t thought much of what kind of hell awaited me walking with a framed print through the busy streets of NY one of the hottest days of the summer so far.  ” So, do you think she’s Italian or Spanish?” I bristled a bit. I didn’t like it when people refer to Spanish-speaking people as  Spanish. This guy was a New Yorker, and I bet that’s the thing here. “Not sure…” I let my voice trail off and we both took notice of the little necklace with a medal on it. ” Catholic?”  He took a closer look. “Maybe a saint or somethin’, like St. Anthony or St. Christopher.” He found some craft paper and wrestled some packing tape to try and origami a cover for the whole thing. He seemed so genuinely curious by the girl, that I could tell a part of him had formed an attachment.

“Take it to FedEx across the way. They can package it for you.” I thought that was a great idea. Unfortunately, across the way might have been some code for anything except a literal across the way, and instead, I wound up happily walking my print over to my daughter’s pad.

I hesitated to bring her on the bus ride back with me. I had no idea what to expect from the bus storage above the seat and putting the print down with the rest of the luggage seemed risky. Instead, I left it tucked in a closet, waiting for me to come back to get her. For a moment I considered displaying the print and having my daughter see it when she got back from her trip. Instead of startling her, I kept the print covered and tucked in a safe spot in one of the closets.

Adventures in Vermont

 I have fallen deeply and irrevocably in love with Vermont.  We came home today and although I was eager to go get back to Brookline, because, it’s well…home,  I was also crestfallen to leave.

We’ve enjoyed the kind of slow pace I knew I wanted but had no idea how much I truly needed.  I’ve sat quietly without expecting things to work a certain way, watched the girls also connect to a sense of calm. The log cabin we called home is tucked in a serene spot off a verdant windy road that barely gets any traffic. We were surrounded by trees and the sound of happy birds. It rained non-stop since we arrived, but somehow every morning we got a slight reprieve and we managed to get out with enough time to hit the roads and do some low-key exploration. Always in the background coming into the cabin, from every window, we enjoyed the sound of a spectacular waterfall.

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I had simple goals on day 1. Write, read, meditate, and plan my calendar. I had secondary aims of creating syllabi for my fall classes and going through a mountain of paperwork that weighs my bag every single day.

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Writing the entries on the blog have sparked the writing. I struggle with identifying as a writer and generating continuous material, so writing a blog entry is a big boost. Often in my entries, the prose is clunky and choppy but I enjoy interweaving images which are so much fun for me to take and at times procure. It’s a state of being and takes me a while to live in that writer’s space.

Here’s the punchline: I didn’t check everything off my list but I didn’t care. Everything I didn’t do on my list means that I managed to sneak something else that brought me closer to my own disheveled brain and to my family.

 

Toolkit

A client recommended Headspace as a primer to meditation.  One of their taglines is:”It only takes a few minutes to change the rest of your day.”

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I downloaded the app a couple of months ago but only had time to try it during the Vermont week. Easy!  Nice and super revelatory process for me.  I’ll talk a bit more about my experience with Headspace on another post.

 

I had been chomping at the bits to get my mechanical keyboard from Lofree and it was a blast to be perched up in that sunny cabin sitting in a cozy studio clicking away on the keyboard. I I brought it to the coworking space, people might throw paperclips at me, but I was on such a roll in my retro typing that it made me want a cigarette.

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We packed for rugged- living. Think bikes, rain boots, big beach towels, food and anti-bug stuff. These Ikea BRODERLIG bags were amazing for trunk organization and toting stuff about.

The FRAKTA long duffle bags in the indistinguishable Ikea blue was the ultimate clothing carryall. The DIMPA became our dirty clothes hamper and wet towel totes.

That’s it for now. I have a ton more to share about surprising places we discovered in Vermont. All I can say is that I am already planning our next visit.