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.
*****
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/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley

how things are here and there

I know there are other things to write about than novel coronavirus status at the moment, but it’s hard for me to write about them without doing the update first. It’s top of mind for millions upon millions of people around the globe.

I live in New York State in the Northeastern United States. Our state is very hard-hit right now, although the majority of the cases are down near New York City, about 150 miles (240 km) from Broome County, where I live. As of this moment, there are 32 known cases in the county and three deaths. The health department is trying to quarantine contacts, but we are seeing community spread.

B is working from home and will continue to for the foreseeable future. We are staying at home, other than for walks in the neighborhood, during which we keep our distance if we happen to see someone else out, and for necessary food and supplies shopping, which is usually my job. I haven’t shopped for a few days, but the last time I tried to do weekly shopping I had to go to several stores. There aren’t real shortages of anything; it’s just that some people are still panic buying and the stores run out of categories of items until they can get their next shipment from the warehouse.

The biggest change in the last week is that we aren’t going to Paco’s everyday. Because my dad lives in a senior community – in other words, a collection of people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 complications – we are trying to restrict our visits to only the most necessary ones. Even though I had tried to set up things so that Paco can manage with just telephone reminders, it is difficult not to be able to be there. I’m afraid, though, that it will be many weeks before it is considered advisable to visit frequently.

Meanwhile, daughter E, her spouse L, their daughter ABC, and L’s parents live in one of the global hotspots, London, UK. They were all exposed to the virus the last Sunday that people were allowed to go to church. E and L have both been sick with something that, symptom-wise, could be COVID-19, but they don’t know because tests are only being run on people sick enough to be hospitalized, which, thankfully, they are not. Once this outbreak calms down, E, at least, will probably have an antibody test to confirm if she has had the virus, because she will be having a baby, most likely in August. (This is what is known as burying the lead.)

We are all very happy that there will be a new member in the family. ABC will be three by the time her new brother or sister arrives. We had hoped to visit this spring and then again after the baby’s birth, but all travel plans are on indefinite hold because of the virus and travel restrictions.

It will certainly be very different than having ABC living with us for her first two years, but at least E, L, ABC, and Baby will in the same country and under the same roof. I’m sure L’s parents will enjoy having so much time with the new baby, as we did having ABC on this side of the pond when she was little.

Wishing everyone good health and safety in these difficult times.

Harry Potter Studio Tour!

When we visited London in December, E got tickets for us to go to the Warner Brothers Studio – The Making of Harry Potter tour! The Harry Potter books and films were very important to our family, so we were thrilled to be able to go. We went on a weekday when our son-in-law had to be at work, so we were a party of five – my spouse B, our daughters E and T, our granddaughter ABC, and me. E was the only one who had been there before.

The Studios are outside London, so we needed to use trains and buses to get there. The last segment is on special studio buses. One of the first things you see after entering is a very large dragon in flight. We weren’t sure how ABC, at two and a half, would react to such things, but she loves dinosaurs and accepted dragons as a dinosaur-variant. (T is holding ABC in the foreground.)
HP flying dragon

Because so many people visit, the start times of the tour are staggered throughout the day. There are some introductory remarks from tour guides and a short film before your group is ushered into the Great Hall. Because we were there in December, everything was decorated for Christmas, including, of course, Christmas crackers at each place at the table.
Great Hall

You can see little details of the set, like the tree-toppers with flying witches…
HP XMas tree-topper

and the wreath around the crest on the fireplace.
Great Hall fireplace

After the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is self-guided, laid out in a uni-directional way. There are lots of sets, like Harry’s Gryffindor bedroom,
Harry's bedroom

costumes, like these from the Yule Ball,
HP costumes Yule Ball

and props, like this display of wands.
HP wands

There were certain displays that ABC did not like, such as these disembodied hairpieces.
HP wigs

Sometimes, context mattered. For example, we rushed ABC out of the dark Forbidden Forest Set with its spiders because she was not a fan, but, later, when we saw the huge model of Aragog, Hagrid’s former pet giant spider, which was several meters wide, mounted on a wall, ABC decided to sing “The Eensy, Weensy Spider” to it.

As a big fan of trains, ABC enjoyed the Hogwarts Express.
Hogwart's Express

Even better, we got to walk through the train cars!
Ada on the Hogwart's Express

For some reason, I had to rush ABC through the grand Gringotts Bank set, because she did not approve.
Gringotts

The destroyed Gringotts was much more to her liking! She insisted on watching the scene multiple times. It must have been the attraction of the dragon…

The last part of the display before the obligatory exit-through-the giftshop was the model of Hogwarts used for the external shots. ABC was a big fan!
J and Ada at Hogwarts model

It was a beautiful model. Because it was winter, we got to see it with snow which made it look even more magical!
Hogwarts model

We all had a lovely time. I hope we will be able to visit again in the coming years. It will be fun to see how ABC reacts over time. Warner Brothers also continues to add new displays, as well as having various limited time features, so there will be new things to see each time.

Eventually, ABC – and any future siblings – will be able to read the Harry Potter books and see the films. Perhaps, E and L will embark on our family tradition of reading each book aloud as a family.

Maybe, B and I will be able to join in via videochat…

SoCS: a disconcerting disconnect

There is a major disconnect between the president of the United States and public health regarding covid-19, the form of coronavirus that is causing illness and death around the world and which may soon cross the line to become a pandemic.

From its start in China, there are now major outbreaks in Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Iran, with cases in lots of countries in both hemispheres. Some of the countries have tested thousands of people, ramped up medical care, imposed quarantines, even closing schools for weeks as was just announced in Japan in the last few days.

Meanwhile, the United States has only tested a few hundred people. There are under a hundred confirmed cases, but most likely there are more cases that only had mild symptoms or no symptoms. This is dangerous because those people can spread the virus unknowingly.

Ordinary Americans have been watching the news of the spread of covid-19, first in China and then into other countries. Some doctors and public health specialists were speaking in the media about the epidemic – and preparedness and cases in the US. Earlier this week, some federal government officials who work in agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had spoken publicly about the virus in the United States.

The stock market in the United States went down – a lot – this week, the steepest decline since the financial crisis of 2008. This finally got the president’s attention and there was an evening news conference about the virus in the US. Unfortunately, the president made mistakes in his remarks, including saying there were only 15 cases in the US when there were actually 60 confirmed cases. He also put the vice-president in charge of the US efforts against the virus, which is disconcerting because, as governor of Indiana, he botched an early intervention effort against HIV. It’s also disconcerting that all communication from the federal government has to be approved by him first, including public statements by Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the infectious disease department for the country.

Late this week, there was the announcement of the first covid-19 case that couldn’t be traced to someone who had contracted it abroad. This is an important development because it could mean that there would be community spread here in the US, which would also bring the world closer to declaring a pandemic. It’s scary because it brings to mind the flu pandemic of 1918, which infected millions worldwide and had a mortality rate of almost two percent. Early statistics from China show that covid-19 has a mortality rate of a little over two percent, which is beyond the ability of even large modern health systems to combat. There would be shortages of needed equipment like respirators and of appropriate hospital facilities that can isolate the patients so that no one catches the virus in the hospital.

Yesterday evening, I was watching a news station. Several times throughout the evening, the stories they were covering were interrupted by news of several new confirmed cases in different locations that appeared to be the result of community spread, instead of direct transmission from abroad or from being in the household of someone who contracted it abroad. This bring some communities in the US close to needing to impose states of emergency and doing things like prohibiting public gatherings, including school and work and church.

The most chilling thing for me was that, at the same time, the president was speaking to a rally in South Carolina, telling them that covid-19 in the US was a hoax perpetrated by Democrats.

This is disconcerting and irresponsible and shows how disconnected the president is from the reality that the country is facing.

To be clear, I am not a paranoid person regarding disease. I’m not running around in a mask and gloves in fear of covid-19. I am, however, vigilantly watching the public health news and, as recommended, making plans for possible cases and restrictions on travel and being out in public in my region.

While I hope and pray for safety and good health around the world, I want to be prepared to stay as safe as possible if this epidemic does become a pandemic. In the US, I hope that people will make sure that the information they get comes from a reliable source.

Sadly, our president is not a reliable source.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is base the post on a word that contains “ect”. Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/02/28/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-29-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!
https://www.quaintrevival.com/

Family time in London

One of the great things about going to visit family living in a historic and dynamic city is that you get to experience non-touristy, neighbourhood life. (I hope all my UK and Commonwealth friends will appreciate my remembering to put the u in.) L, E, and ABC live with L’s parents in Plaistow. The row houses there remind me of ones that you see in some US cities.
Larry's parents' house in London
L’s parents love gardening. The weather in London is mild enough for flowers outdoors in the winter. There were definitely no flowers co-existing with Christmas wreaths at our house in upstate New York!

We were surprised to see a tree full of parakeets! Apparently, escaped parakeets have led over the decades to thousands of these birds flying about London.
parakeets in London!

We learned that while most of the utilities are underground, the phone lines are not. Londoners get a lot of use from one utility pole!
London telephone lines

While we sometimes went in a family car, we most often got around by train or bus. Never having lived in a large city with good public transportation, I appreciated the extensive network of routes. While people in the US tend to think of double-decker buses as tourist vehicles, they are the common bus on most routes. They can carry twice as many people as regular buses and there are definitely a lot of people on the move.
London bus station
ABC loves to go on the buses and trains, especially when she can sit in the front of a train car or the top level of a bus. She likes to pretend she is driving.

Another advantage of being with Londoners is that they can direct you to phenomenal neighbourhood fish ‘n chips shops that a tourist would never find. We decided on haddock and there was so much food it overflowed the plates!
London fish 'n chips
It was also great to have so many home-cooked meals, especially when we had Filipino dishes. Given that most of us came down with a cold, it was especially great to have homemade soup.