SoCS: JG+toys

two-month-old granddaughter JG whom we plan to meet in person next month

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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/10/14/one-liner-wednesday-the-thing-nobody-talks-about/

scatter-brained

I’ve been wanting to write a post for several days, but have felt too scattered to do it.

I’m still feeling too scattered, but am determined to do it now regardless, ignoring the fact that I have unread email messages going back to Sunday, although I think I’ve caught all the important ones, and a long to-do list of other tasks.

Our national drama and the pandemic continue to demand an outsize share of my thoughts. The president’s behavior and rhetoric are increasingly bizarre, possibly as a result of the high-dose steroids he is taking for COVID. There are over two dozen known cases among White House and campaign personnel and cases and quarantine of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our highest ranking military officers. The president is planning to resume public campaigning, even though he is most likely still infectious. The medical information that has been released publicly is at best incomplete and at worst misleading.

Yesterday, arrests were made as a result of a plot to kidnap and possibly kill Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. I’m grateful that the governor and her family are safe but appalled that a self-styled right-wing militia was planning such a horrible attack. Gov. Whitmer, like many other governors around the country, has enacted executive orders to address the pandemic. She has been vilified by protesters, some of whom were armed, Republican legislators, and the president. She has been publicly threatened with violence and been subjected to sexist slurs. Still, it was shocking to learn that there was a serious plot to kidnap her and “try her for treason” before the November election. Instead of expressing support for her yesterday after the news broke, the president tweeted criticism of her and her policies, along with mischaracterizations of her and other Democrats.

In local COVID news, there has been an uptick in cases here in Broome County and we are officially on yellow alert, which sets lower limits on gatherings and increased testing for schools. Our county executive had already asked residents to stay at home as much as possible, so there isn’t much additional impact on daily life, but the official recognition by New York State has reminded me to be even more cautious with outings.

I am also getting increasingly anxious about our upcoming trip to the UK to visit daughter E and her family. The UK has also had an increasing number of COVID cases recently and has tightened restrictions. B, T and I are going for the month of November because we will need to quarantine for the first two weeks. Then, we will have two weeks to visit, although it’s unclear if we will be able to all congregate at their home as gatherings of more than six are prohibited. We are also hoping to celebrate JG’s baptism, but aren’t sure how many will be allowed to attend. After we return home to New York, we will need to quarantine for two weeks, bringing us to mid-December. The airline has already changed our flights once and I’m hoping that no additional travel restrictions go into effect this month.

Part of what is stressing me out is trying to plan and prepare for six weeks of travel and quarantine. Besides B, T, and me, I need to have plans in place for Paco and for the house, where my sisters and brother-in-law in various constellations will be holding down the fort in our absence. This is turning into a major re-jiggering and re-stocking effort indoors, while a long-awaited landscaping project has been going on outdoors.

Meanwhile, in my continuing quest to catch up with personal preventive health measures, I had a COVID test this morning in advance of a colonoscopy next week. Because of some pre-existing conditions, my prep is a bit more complicated than for most people, so I’m hoping I can get through it with a minimum of repercussions. Maybe I’ll write a post next week while I’m waiting for the remnants of the sedation and medications to wear off. That could be, um, interesting?

On the poetry front, I got another chapbook rejection. It was a debut chapbook competition that had drawn over 200 entries, a detail I’m including as it gives people an idea of the odds, and this contest was relatively small. On the unexpectedly happy news side, I received notification of acceptance to an anthology called Lullabies and Confessions: Poetic Explorations of Parenting Across the Lifespan from University Professors Press. I had submitted to the anthology over four years ago and had assumed my poem had been rejected although I hadn’t gotten an email about it, but the project had instead been delayed and my poem will be included. Publication is expected in print and ebook early next year.

I’m still feeling scattered, as though there is something else I’m supposed to be saying, but I want to get this out. Stay safe and be well!

Ocean and Snowman

This evening, while watching television, I happened to see the last part of the movie Moana followed by the beginning of Frozen.

When daughter E and granddaughter ABC lived with us before E’s spousal visa came through for their big move to London, ABC, at two, was just starting to be entranced with watching (parts of) movies. These were two of her favorites, which she called “Ocean” and “Snowman”.

Both movies celebrate love of family, intergenerationally in Moana and between sisters in Frozen. Seeing them tonight reminds me of how desperately I miss seeing E and ABC and how much I want to meet new granddaughter JG.

When E and ABC left for London almost a year ago, we had assumed that we would be able to visit several times a year. My spouse B, younger daughter T, and I did visit in December. (There are posts about the trip that you can find in the archive in late January into March. It took a long time to get the posts together.) We had hoped to visit again in the spring and then in the summer when the baby was due to arrive, but COVID intervened, so we haven’t seen them yet in 2020, other than on screen.

Most days, I can manage the distance, but, tonight, I could hear the echoes of ABC asking for Ocean or singing about building a snowman and I’m sad.

We do have a visit planned in November, beginning with two weeks in quarantine to be followed by two weeks for visiting under whatever the current UK restrictions are for group size. We are hoping that JG’s baptism will be able to take place while we are there.

Plans are in place, but I’m nervous that travel protocols might change and keep us from seeing them. Meanwhile, we are hoping that people in the US and the UK will be careful about following pandemic control measures so that virus rates stay down and our visit can go forward.

And, people in other countries, I hope you will stay safe, too.

Old haunts

This is my last full day in the North Adams area. MASS MoCA is closed today, so I planned to go back to Monroe Bridge, Paco (my dad) and my hometown, and Hoosac Tunnel, Nana’s (my mom) hometown. I thought it would take a couple of hours this morning and I’d be back to the hotel by noon.

I got carried away.

I wound up stopping at a lot of old-but-changed haunts and taking tons of photos. (Don’t worry. I’ll only share a few.) Many of the ones I won’t show are unlikely to be meaningful to anyone without long-standing personal history in the area, as there is a lot of “what used to be here” in play. Warning: There will also be a lot of dams and reservoirs and hydroelectric plants. Paco was superintendent of the Upper Deerfield River (southern Vermont/western Massachusetts) for what was then New England Power Company and my sisters and I grew up traipsing around powerplants and such.

Sherman Reservoir – our house, which is no longer there, was near the dam that created the reservoir
Sherman Station, the hydroelectric plant just below the dam and our “neighbor”

The building in the photo below was built by the WPA in the 1930’s. My father and some of his siblings attended school there when it was new. It also housed the town office and library. They are still there, but most of the building is now offices for the current successor of New England Power Company. The array of mailboxes is a poor substitute for the post office, which was the center of town life for many years. Olga, the postmistress was a good friend of my mom’s; they saw each other nearly every day and stayed in touch after retirement and moves put them at a distance.

Front of the former school with tree dedicated to Olga Simonetti, former postmistress
Olga’s memorial plaque

I went down to the river and crossed the bridge; our town’s name was Monroe, but the mailing address became Monroe Bridge because they would leave the mail at the Monroe bridge. This iteration of the bridge was built in 2015. The dam is quite a lot older. Part of the old paper mill was torn down and replaced with a little park. The rest is still there, although the worse for wear.

I continued downriver. I visited the Dunbar Brook picnic area, which was deserted except for a toad that I startled as I walked across the grass. I got to take a ride on a swing, which was refreshing and nostalgic. When I went back to my car, I was surprised to see that the old road along the river leading toward the Bear Swamp lower reservoir was open. I drove all the way down to the gate just before the Number 5 Station.

Number 5 Station and the Deerfield becoming the lower reservoir for Bear Swamp pumped storage

When I went back up to the main road, I stopped to pay my respects at the Legate family cemetery. When Nana and Paco were first married, they lived in the old Legate House, which was then owned by New England Power. The house was torn down decades ago, but the little cemetery is still tended to.

I wish I could show you a decent photo of the lower reservoir for Bear Swamp. I wish even more that I could tour the underground powerhouse that we visited with Paco so many times as it was being built and after it was completed, but it is all fenced in for safety and security reasons. I will close, though, with a photo of the Hoosac Tunnel. Nana grew up in Hoosac Tunnel, a part of the town of Florida, Massachusetts, because her father headed a maintenance crew for the Boston and Maine Railroad. At the time it was built, the Hoosac Tunnel was an engineering marvel. This is the less-fancy eastern portal. The North Adams side was more decorative, befitting a growing city in the late 1800s.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to revisit my roots. I hope that the sense of connection and the energy and the comfort of familiarity will stay with me so that I can make progress on my poetry collection after I am home.

If not, I may have to come back.

Or, maybe, I’ll come back regardless.

Retreat in progress

I wrote here about heading to North Adams on a private writing retreat and wanted to give an update.

I have made two visits to MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), concentrating on exhibits that have arrived since the Boiler House Poets Collective’s last residency in early fall 2019. I’ve taken a lot of photos to help me with my work on my collection and have even been able to sit in the galleries and work on some first drafts for poems. I have a growing sense that I need to center the collection on place, on what it means to be from and of this part of the world. To help with this, I’ve also been taking photos of the plaques scattered around the museum about the history of buildings and people’s remembrances. I even bought a book from the gift shop by Joe Manning, an artist/poet/author/historian, filled with interviews from people in the area.

While I miss my Boiler House poet-friends, I am enjoying the freedom of being totally on my own. I watched a long video about Sol Lewitt and spent time writing in the galleries, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I had our usual studio access, workshopping schedule, and shared meals. I certainly miss the immediate feedback on my poems, although I can sometimes hear echoes of their comments from prior years and feel that this is helping me in my writing and edits now.

The Museum is very responsive to the COVID dangers. Everyone has masks and distances appropriately. The Museum itself is huge, given that it is located in a series of old factory buildings, so it is easy to not be close to other people. They are leaving some windows open to increase air exchange and there are abundant hand-sanitizing stations. The cafe has expanded its indoor and outdoor seating to safe distances. Admission is arranged in advance so that there are not crowds trying to get in at the same time. During the shutdown, B and I became members of the Museum, so I am making good use of my free admission privileges.

Today, I decided not to go the museum. I did practical things in the morning and spent the whole afternoon writing and editing. It felt like a luxury. This evening, I’m catching up on reading, blogging, and email.

I’m also getting to visit some of the people I know who still live in the area. I got to have outdoor and distanced dinner with a high school friend and will have a cousin visit tomorrow in B’s hometown, Stamford VT. On Tuesday, when the Museum is closed, I will most likely drive to my and my dad’s hometown, Monroe Bridge, and my mom’s, Hoosac Tunnel. They appear in some of the poems in my collection.

I am more than halfway through my time here and am feeling like I have accomplished a lot. Perhaps, the most useful thing I have learned is that this time away is fruitful and a possibility to repeat in the future, COVID and family obligations permitting.

Looking out on part of the Ledelle Moe exhibit “When” https://massmoca.org/event/ledelle-moe/

change of scenery

Unfortunately, the Boiler House Poets Collective‘s reunion residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts planned for this fall had to be postponed to fall 2021 due to the pandemic. We are all disappointed not to be together in North Adams. Fall 2021 seems impossibly far away.

I had hoped to get in a lot of work on the collection that I am working on about the area and my family history here. It’s already a years-long project and the thought of not having concentrated time to work on it was difficult.

I had begun to make plans to come on my own when a poetry reading that I was set to participate in was pushed back. I hurriedly moved up my plans, taking advantage of the fact that neither New York nor Massachusetts are requiring quarantine against each other.

So, here I am, in my hotel room overlooking one of the newest MASS MoCA community arts installations:

Tomorrow, I have a reserved entrance time at the museum and a reserved tour for an exhibit by Wendy Red Star. The reservations are part of the COVID precautions in place. The buildings and grounds are very spacious, so, while everyone will be masked, it will be easy to keep a healthy distance from other visitors and staff. I will have a notebook with me and see what strikes me as something to write about, now or later.

I’m trying to let things unfold as they will, although I have already had a bit of a bump in the road. As I was driving to North Adams, a stone or something impacted my windshield and cracked it. It is relatively small and should be repariable, but I’ve already had to spend time online and on the phone to schedule the repair for Saturday.

I’m hoping that unexpected cracks do not become a theme for my private writing retreat…

A new arrival!

I’m happy to share the news that B and I have a new granddaughter! Daughter E gave birth to her second daughter, Jillian Grace, earlier this week. Proud daddy L was able to be there despite the pandemic hoopla and now-big-sister ABC was able to meet Jillian Grace when they were able to take her home at only twelve hours old! As I usually do initials here at Top of JC’s Mind to protect family privacy, I’ll hereafter refer to Jillian Grace as JG.

This photo was taken in the hospital with the very cute Pooh sleeper:

In keeping with the literary clothing theme, here is a photo taken the next day wearing a “Very Hungry Caterpillar” outfit. The script says “tiny and very hungry” which is a) adorable and b) true, although JG managed to wait until 38 weeks to be born while ABC appeared at 36 weeks and so was even tinier. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is a family favorite by Eric Carle, who lived for many years in western Massachusetts and used to visit and sign copies of his books at B’s mom’s school.

Of course, B and I and Auntie T wish we could rush over and cuddle JG, play and sing with ABC, and hug and help out E and L, but they are in London, UK and we are in upstate New York in the US. With pandemic travel restrictions, it’s difficult to go there, although we are hoping we will be able to visit this fall. Fortunately, L’s parents, known here as Lolo and Lola, are on hand and we are able to exchanged messages and videochat.

And there is still the promise of hugs.

Someday.

a non-reunion

In fall of 2015, I took a frightening leap of faith and attended my first-ever poetry residency/workshop. It was a collaboration between Tupelo Press and The Studios at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). As a relatively inexperienced poet, the only reason I was emboldened to apply was that it was in North Adams, the small city in the Berkshires where I had gone to high school. I grew up in the tiny town of Monroe Bridge, about twenty miles away, so North Adams had been a second hometown to me, with at least weekly visits to relatives and stores.

The residency was, well, complicated. It was daunting and terrifying at times and I was perpetually in over my head, but I learned a lot and met wonderful poets. I blogged about the experience and just re-read all the posts. This post contains links to the residency week’s posts, which convey things fairly well, except for downplaying the terror just a tad.

In those 2015 posts, I mentioned the possibility of a reunion residency and I’m pleased to say that the Boiler House Poets Collective has met every year since in early fall for a week at MASS MoCA.

Until this year.

Because of the pandemic protocols and travel restrictions, our 2020 reunion is cancelled. We are all sad, but we are on the schedule for fall 2021, so we know we will return.

In one of the 2015 posts, I mention my plan to put together a poetry collection about my personal and family ties to the North Adams area and that it might take a long time to put it together.

This turned out to be true.

While I have completed a different manuscript in the intervening years – and two major iterations of the North Adams collection, I am nowhere near finished with the collection I envisioned in 2015. I had planned to spend a major chunk of our 2020 residency hammering out more poems and a new version of the manuscript.

I get emails from MASS MoCA and The Studios, so I knew that a deadline was coming up to apply for individual residencies for winter/spring 2021 and I began pondering if that was something I should try to do. It’s a bit complicated because 1) it’s very competitive; 2) the minimum block is two weeks, which makes things trickier in terms of being away from home; 3) no one can project what kinds of virus levels, travel restrictions, closures, capacity limits, etc. may be in place in 2021, so cancellations could still occur; 4) the application would have been quite a chore, especially because I don’t have a cv prepared.

In discussing this with my spouse B and resident daughter T, an alternate solution came up – that I could go to North Adams on a self-styled writing retreat, staying in a local hotel/inn, visiting the museum with my membership pass, and writing in my room or some other socially distanced space that may present itself. If I do this, I could choose the dates myself and could wander about the area as I wished. Importantly, I could also go sooner rather than later, while both New York and Massachusetts have good control on virus levels and no travel restrictions between them. I would be able to maintain good social distancing, so my risks would not be any higher there than here.

So, I might make it to North Adams to write for a week after all. Of course, it won’t be as rich an experience as I am used to when being officially in residence with my inestimable Boiler House poet-friends, but the time away to work on the collection in the place where it is centered would still, I hope, be fruitful.

Stay tuned for future developments.

Choirs in the time of COVID

I often participate in Linda Hill‘s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. Her last prompt was “song.” The instruction was to “find a picture–the closest one to you. Your prompt is the title and/or the lyrics of the first song that comes to mind when you look at the picture.”

I couldn’t manage to follow the instruction – my brain doesn’t work that way – but thoughts about song have been flooding my consciousness for the last couple of days.

I can’t remember the first song I sang, but singing has been an important part of my life, especially choral singing. Decades of it. Most of it has been associated with schools or church. It has been my privilege to sing some of the great choral works of Western music. I love singing Bach; my background as an organist probably influences that. My favorite large work to sing is Brahms’ Requiem, in German, of course.

I’ve written sorrowfully of the probable demise of University Chorus due to a re-organization of the choral program at Binghamton. At the time, I never dreamed that choral singing itself would be on indefinite pause.

It turns out that singing is a high-risk activity to spread coronavirus. A choir rehearsal, with lots of people singing in close quarters indoors, can easily become a super-spreader event. While some churches have begun re-opening, they cannot safely have their choirs sing. They can’t even have their congregations sing. The thought of returning to church but having to stay silent is more than I can bear.

Nine years ago, I made my first trip to Europe as part of the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. We sang the Mozart Requiem in Sicily. I have sung with the SCAC in several on-campus events, as well as last year’s tour of Slovenia. Any planning for future events is on hold, not knowing what conditions we will be facing over the next couple of years.

Someday, some year, there will be widespread vaccine and/or effective treatment for COVID-19 and singing in groups will again be reasonably safe. I hope that choral organizations manage to survive so that they can reconvene and make music together again. I hope that I, then in my sixties, will be considered young enough, healthy enough, and mellifluous enough to join in.

SoCS: calendar

Maybe I should toss out my calendar.

One of my least favorite tasks at the end of the year is transferring dates from my calendar for year X to my new calendar for year X+1. I still use paper calendars, a large one in a central location in the house and a pocket one that I carry in my purse. I diligently try to keep them coordinated and updated, but now there have been so many crossouts and changes that it gets daunting to deal with them.

The latest long-time calendar entry that needs to be corrected is the annual Boiler House Poets Collective residency week at MASS MoCA. It is scheduled for early fall, so we had hoped that at least some of us would be able to gather, but we got the news that we are cancelled for this year. MASS MoCA will re-open next week, but many of its programs will be running at reduced capacity, if at all. Residencies will be cut way back because the artists are generally housed in four-bedroom apartments with only one bathroom and relatively small kitchen/common area, which wouldn’t allow for social distancing.

I know that this is the responsible path at this point, but I’m still sad. I only see all but one of the Boiler House poets during our residency, so I’m bummed knowing I won’t see them for two years instead of one.

Selfishly, I’m also sad about losing the opportunity to sequester myself in my studio in building 13 and work on my collection that centers around the North Adams area and its history, which is entwined with my family history. In 2015, when I first went to a MASS MoCA residency through a program with Tupelo Press, I had hoped that I might be able to craft a chapbook around my own relationship with the area. Over the years, it has morphed into a collection, which has been torn apart and re-configured more times than I care to admit to already. I was looking forward to having concentrated time to work on the manuscript during residency this year, hoping that I would be able to find the mental space and creativity and energy to make major progress while I was there with the support and feedback of my poet-friends.

Theoretically, I could try to shut myself in my bedroom for a week and try to hash it out on my own, but it’s hard to imagine managing it. There are enough chores and responsibilities here that it’s difficult to see how I could block out that much time. Even if I could, would I be able to do it effectively without being in that place and with the generous advice of my fellow poets?

We are able to schedule a residency for early fall 2021, but I know that is too long to put off my manuscript work. I’m going to have to get my brain in gear to work on a plan to work on the manuscript.

Maybe, I need to put it on my calendar.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “toss.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/03/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-4-2020/

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