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.

a pandemic paradox

Over the past several years of spending a lot of time as a caregiver, I’ve valiantly tried to cut down the size of my email inbox, which is often overflowing with news, newsletters, and calls to action from various charitable, social justice, and environmental causes, along with personal and poetry-related emails. Even with my diligent attempts, I routinely handle over a hundred emails a day, which is still a lot, so I am unsubscribing from even more email lists and trying to avoid signing too many petitions which lead to my being on even more lists.

Paradoxically, as we have been avoiding in-person meetings over these last months, my inbox is full of invitations to connect via Zoom or Go to Webinar or some other platform. Instead of having fewer demands on my time, there seem to be more.

I can’t keep up.

In order to create some semblance of order, I’ve decided to narrow the selection of online events that I will accept. Of course, I will continue with my local poetry circle, which I call the Grapevine Group after the cafe where we used to meet pre-pandemic. I am also looking forward to the five-week summer session of the Binghamton Poetry Project, which, for the first time, is breaking into a beginner and a more experienced section. I am also signed up for six summer sessions with a local spirituality center that has had to re-convene virtually rather than offering in-person programs and retreats.

Beyond that, I plan to accept a very limited number of educational/advocacy meetings on social/environmental justice to keep informed and to take directed action. I am heartened by the increasing convergence of climate/environmental justice with racial/economic justice and want to advocate for effective change.

Beyond that, I hope to say “No” and continue to unsubscribe so that I have more time to accomplish what I need to and respond to ever-shifting circumstances.

(She writes, hoping she can actually manage to do so.)

SoCS: new editor

Change is good.

Change is difficult.

Change is necessary.

Change is easier when you have a choice about it.

Obviously, many of us have made a lot of changes due to the pandemic, but this is not going to be another one of my pandemic posts. (Silent cheering.)

Instead, it is about being faced with WordPress retiring the classic editor in favor of the block editor. Those of you with newer blogs are probably already using it – and, I’m sure, many of the people with older blogs are, too.

I admit to not being especially tech-savvy, but I learned to use the classic editor well enough to be able to keep Top of JC’s Mind going for six years and counting. I admit that it has been frustrating at times, especially in getting poetry to format properly. White space is not a friend of the classic editor. I had to learn to add photos, but I tend to post text only most of the time. My brain processes words better than images and I don’t like having to think about copyright issues and such when I’m posting.

I did do a bit of experimenting with the block editor a few months back when I began to set up a new website for the Boiler House Poets Collective. [Note to self: Get the site public soon.] I found it very confusing, so I swapped back into the classic editor. “It” in the prior sentence meaning the block editor.

Yesterday, when I logged in to post about the first anniversary of my mom’s death, I was faced with the news that the current classic editor is being retired as of June 1 in favor of the ever-so-superior block editor. I was not in the mood to experiment at that point, although I did read the short article about it and opened a tab with a longer article for future reference.

Later in the day yesterday, I wrote a post scheduled for tomorrow, using the classic editor.

And here I am on Saturday morning, writing this post using the classic editor.

I’m promising myself to read more about the block editor later today. I’m really hoping I can learn to use it without a long and painful learning curve.

If push comes to shove, though, I do have the instructions to revert to something that is very close to the classic editor.

I’ll try not to wimp out and use it, though.

Promise.

Change is good. Right?
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is basing the post on a word beginning with ch. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/05/22/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-23-2020

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

a very different Mother’s Day

Today in the United States, we are observing Mother’s Day, which was originally begun as a call by women for peace, but that is another story.

I have been dreading Mother’s Day this year because it is the first since my mom’s death last May.  She was under hospice care in the nursing home, but we were still able to be with her and bring cards and flowers and treats. I keep thinking about how different it would have been this year with pandemic protections in place. No visiting is allowed. I know that is necessary to keep the virus away from such vulnerable people, but it must be so difficult today for all those moms, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers to be separated from their loved ones.

I am grateful to have daughter T here with us. We got to videochat with daughter E and granddaughter ABC. ABC showed me a special drawing that she and her dad had made for me for Mother’s Day. They were able to scan it and B printed it for me, so now it is on the mantel. It was fun to see ABC dancing about the living room, to hear her sing and “play” the piano, and hear her ever-expanding vocabulary. She will turn three next month. This is also the first Mother’s Day since they moved to London after E’s spousal visa finally came through. Though I wished E a happy Mother’s Day, the UK celebrated weeks ago.

It has also been unseasonably cold here. We have had snow this weekend, which is late in the spring for us. No outdoor flowers for Mother’s Day gifts this year!

Because of my mood and the pandemic restrictions, our celebration here will be low-key. B made Chelsea buns for breakfast, which were amazingly delicious and hot-from-the-oven. For supper, he is making lasagna, using the recipe that my mom always did. It is definitely the comfort food that I need today.

It was also comforting to watch mass recorded from television. The one I chose was my mother’s favorite when she was homebound for so many months. Of course, they mentioned Mother’s Day and included prayers for mothers. It was another way to remember my mom on this special but difficult day.

Change is…

Change is stressful.

Even when it is a sought-for or hoped-for change, like welcoming a new child or moving into a new home.

An unwelcome change, such as serious illness, accident, or death of a loved one, is even more stressful.

Over the last several years, we’ve gone through the illness and death of my mother-in-law and my mother, the welcome addition of adult children and our first grandchild to our home and the pain of them flying away, and the crowding out of pursuits that used to occupy us. All of this personal change overlays the ever-shifting sands of tumult in the US.

I can attest that change is stressful.

People keep telling me to breathe.

After the stress of the first Christmas season without my mom, I decided to give myself  breathing space in the form of a mini-sabbatical, still attending to my vital tasks while allowing myself time to go to the movies or read or write or whatever else I felt like doing that day.

Of course, participating in Just Jot It January fit right into that plan!

As I’ve been reflecting on these last few weeks, I am starting to formulate what changes I need to make going forward. Knowing that there will still be a fair amount of day-to-day uncertainty with our family life, I won’t attempt a strict schedule. I do plan, though, to be more deliberate with my writing practice. No, this does not mean that I will post every day for the rest of the year as I have been for Just Jot It January, although I do hope to continue posting without some of the major breaks I’ve had to take in the past.

In the area of writing, I do need to be more deliberate about editing and publication. I find the publication submission piece particularly daunting. There are hundreds of literary journals and magazines and small presses that specialize in poetry and it is difficult for me to figure out to whom I should send my work. Because submissions typically charge a reading fee, you want to invest in those publications that are most likely to be interested in your work. I tend to be overwhelmed by the choices and the specifics of differing submission procedures. I need to summon the energy to undertake these less fun not at all fun aspects of the writing process to get my work out to the public.

Oh, and I need to start doing some open mic and/or group readings. Reading in public, even with a small group, takes a lot of energy and courage for me, but it is very important for poets to do.

I also need to make a dent in reading the huge backlog of poetry journals, chapbooks, collections, and anthologies waiting for me. I will probably never catch up.

Years ago, I had a few dozen blogs that I read on a regular basis. I was a frequent commenter, as well. Even though I know this is what every good blogger should do, I don’t think I can go back to it, choosing instead to concentrate on poetry. I am committed to continuing Top of JC’s Mind, but I will spend the bulk of my blogging time writing posts and responding to comments. I will continue to read some blogs, but it will most likely continue in my current haphazard fashion. I know that means I will gain followers only slowly, but I’m not a big stats person. I do want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to all my readers and followers! I am humbled that you choose to spend part of your time here.

I also used to spend a lot of time reading and responding to emails. I was on a lot of mailing lists – against fracking and for environmental advocacy, for progressive political principles, for increasing social justice, for some specific candidates/officeholders, for reform of the Catholic church, and so on. I have cut back on a number of them and have lately taken to deleting a lot without even opening them. I will keep a core of them, because these issues remain important to me, but I will try to be intentional about which I read and take action on.

Sadly, singing has faded into the background. I never thought this would happen, but the seeming demise of my long-time chorus has taken away my usual Monday night rehearsals and rehearsing at home during the week. I don’t have ABC here anymore for impromptu renditions of “Old McDonald” or Sesame Street songs. I should be doing vocal exercises and sight reading practice every day to keep my voice in good form, but I don’t have the heart for it. Maybe, someday, I’ll feel like singing again.

I may limit evening activities to poetry gatherings, choosing to be at home with family otherwise. I’m sure there will be the occasional evening event that will draw me away, but I want to spend most evenings at home. In part, this is to spend time with B who works long days. Even if we are just watching television or reading or doing puzzles, it is comforting to be together. Additionally, given my own introversion, it takes a lot of energy to be in groups of people. It’s difficult to summon that energy at the end of the day.

I am also trying to make some changes that impact my physical well-being. I am trying to eat more thoughtfully, exercise (a tiny bit) more, and sleep longer at night. Rather than trying to make drastic changes, I am doing little things that send me in the right direction. I think that is a more sustainable way for me to proceed.

The other area that I hope to make some changes is making time for friends. This is not totally under my control, as many friends have their own busy lives, but I think if I actually make a call or send a note, we have a better chance of getting together, whether in person or by videochat. I cherish all my friends and feel their support, even when we aren’t able to get together, but I need to turn some of our vague “let’s do lunch or breakfast” into actual times and dates.

That’s a lot of changes to make, and, therefore, a lot of stress.

At least, it will be stress that leads to positive change.

Fingers crossed.
*****
The prompt for Linda’s Just Jot It January today is “change.” Join us! You don’t need to use the prompt – I seldom do – because anything counts as a Jot. Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/24/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-24th-2020/

intention

Other than One-Liner Wednesday and Stream of Consciousness Saturday, I don’t usually follow the Just Jot It January prompts, but today’s prompt is “intention”, which sparked my interest. If the prior sentence makes no sense to you, you definitely need to visit Linda Hill’s blog, Life in Progress, and check it out!

It was my intention to try to re-organize my life after so many changes in 2019.

Or maybe I should say “organize,” given that I can’t actually remember the last time I felt that my life was organized.

This is definitely not the first time I have felt that I should (re)organize. In truth, I have had multiple junctures in my adult life – when my daughters started school, or moved away from home for higher education or work, or when Grandma moved nearby and we weren’t trooping back to Vermont so frequently, etc. etc. – when I thought I would re-organize and have a schedule and maybe make progress on long-term goals.

Somehow, it never quite worked out.

I know that this sounds like either an excuse or a complaint, but it is not meant to be either.

It is a recognition of the vicissitudes of life and how priorities need to be reshuffled to meet a new challenge. I chose to prioritize caregiving over other possible activities – and caregiving is seldom a follow-the-schedule sort of thing. Unfortunately, my extended family has suffered an unusually large number and variety of diagnoses, some of which took years to pin down and some that are difficult to treat. I’ve spent time supporting friends who have had cancer and died at a much younger age than we had hoped. I’ve spent major amounts of time volunteering to address emerging community needs.

These choices were all intentional, but they meant postponing or jettisoning personal goals. There were times earlier in my life when I thought I would have my musical compositions published and might return to paid work as a church musician. Circumstances, including orthopedic problems and a crisis that tore my church community apart, intervened and those dreams disintegrated.

Serendipitously, my music losses made room in my life for more writing, albeit in a somewhat haphazard way. My blog and my poetry have shoehorned themselves around major caregiving challenges in the twenty-teens. My dreams of submitting poems for publication on a regular basis and of having a book in print by sixty turned out to be unattainable. I suppose the book part is still a possibility, but it is unlikely because now, at 59, neither of my poetry manuscripts is currently in shape to submit.

Which circles me back to my intention to organize my life…

It is true that my caregiving activities are lessened now, but they are still there and somewhat unpredictable. Something that I have said often over the last few years is also still true; sometimes, the problem is not so much lack of time as lack of brainpower. I definitely can carve out more time for writing now, but I don’t necessarily have the brainpower to do it effectively.

I’m tired.

I guess that, sometimes, when you have run on adrenaline and/or cortisol for a long time and then you stop, your mind and body don’t just jump back to normal function. (I’m not sure that this is medically true, but it is my current way of understanding how I am feeling.)

A week ago, while writing for Stream of Consciousness Saturday, an idea floated to the surface that has kept coming back to me. Perhaps what would be most useful right now is not a schedule, but a sabbatical.

I had intended, early this year, to do revisions on a few individual poems and to assemble my chapbook manuscript for critique by my local poet-friends, so that I could submit to contests and publishers in the spring.

Now, I am feeling that I should not put that pressure on myself.

Maybe I will rest for a while and then feel rejuvenated and creative and I will be able to work on it.

Maybe I won’t.

I just feel too tired to force the issue.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! You can follow the prompts or not as you wish. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/05/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-5th-2020/

SoCS: 2019/2020

Some years stand out in memory as more difficult than others.

For me, 2005 was one of those years. Within a few months that year, I lost a close friend and my father-in-law to cancer. At the same time, our long-time parish disintegrated, just at the time when we needed spiritual comfort the most.

2019 has also been one of those years.

We dealt with the final months of my mom’s struggle with congestive heart failure and her death in May. Then, there were the many facets of dealing with her death for me and our family, the practical things like funeral arrangements and mounds of paperwork and the personal things, learning to navigate in a world without her.

This year also saw the bittersweet re-location of daughter E and granddaughter ABC to the UK after E’s spousal visa finally came through. We love that they are finally able to live together full-time as a family, but miss having them here on this side of the pond. It was a privilege being here to watch ABC grow from a tiny newborn into a rambunctious, talkative two-year-old. We appreciate being able to visit London in person and to videochat, but it is still a big re-adjustment.

With the losses, celebrating the holidays has been difficult for me. We made lasagna for Christmas using a recipe from Nana and used one of her relish dishes for serving olives. There are ornaments that came from both sides of our family on the tree, as well as some baby’s first Christmas ornaments commemorating ABC’s birth in 2017. We appreciate our memories of Christmas celebrations with Nana and Paco (my parents) and Grandma and Grandpa (B’s parents). I smile thinking about the year that L proposed to E on Christmas morning while visiting here. I remember how, last year, the lower half of our tree was all unbreakable ornaments in deference to ABC who was then 18 months old. Now, there are fragile ornaments scattered throughout all the branches. Christmas this year was very quiet, with just Paco, B, T, and I here for the lasagna and Christmas cookies, which has been our tradition since the years when E and T were young and participating in Christmas morning liturgy for children and families at church. Lasagna was great because you could prep it the night before and bake after church to have dinner at midday.

Of course, all of the personal struggles come at a time of great upheaval, socially and politically, in both the US and the UK. We are all living in a world struggling to deal with present and future climate change and trying to marshall personal and political will to make the changes needed to addresses the causes and effects as best we can.

I know that some people feel a lot of positive energy when we enter a new year and a new decade. I admit that I am not generally one of those people, seeing January first as the day that follows December 31st and not as some shiny new beginning. I don’t know if this change of year will feel different or not. I certainly am feeling the need now to try to take stock and re-arrange the way I use my days, perhaps managing to be more deliberate, now that there are not quite so many factors in my life that require changes of plan and quick reactions to shifting circumstances and priorities.

Perhaps, what I really need is time to rest and take stock, like a sabbatical or a year of Jubilee as it is described in the Hebrew Scriptures. Or maybe not a whole year, but a few months. I will have to ponder…

Sometimes, writing stream of consciousness stays in its own little stories. Today, though, it feels more like travelling.

As we draw close to the beginning of 2020, I wish that the year will take each of you where you most need to go.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “year.” Please join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/12/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-28-19

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

Sixth Blogiversary!

(I enjoy the way spellcheck corrects my spelling of blogiversary, as though it were a real word.)

WordPress helpfully reminded me that I started Top of JC’s Mind six years ago today.

Six years ago feels like a different world, in ways both small- and large-scale.

Six years ago, B and I both still had our moms.

L and daughter E were in Hawai’i, still in their first year of marriage, never dreaming that the first two years of their daughter’s life would be spent at our home in upstate New York while L worked in London toward getting a spousal visa for E. The visa should be arriving soon. B and I will have an eerily quiet home when E and ABC leave at whatever point in the coming weeks…

During the last six years, daughter T has completed a master’s in conservation biology of plants – and has faced an administration that has ignored her field of study at a time when it is most needed.

Six years ago, Barack Obama was president of the United States. Even though the Republicans in Congress blocked a lot of things that would have been helpful for the country, we, at least, had a sense of pride in our nation on the world stage and an absence of scandal. With Donald Trump as president, there is a general sense of fear and apprehension and the United States has lost its leadership position; there seem to be multiple scandals every week.

Six years ago, we were fighting in New York for a ban on shale fracking. Amazingly enough, New York instituted a regulatory ban, which is still holding. Given that New York has just recently enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, it would fly in the face of our climate goals to begin fracking, even under a future governor.

Meanwhile, the global climate situation is becoming more and more dire. While I was encouraged by the Paris climate accord, the time since has been difficult, with DT ready to pull the US out of the accord in November, 2020. Many states, cities, companies, and individuals have stepped up to continue working toward net zero carbon goals. Our family is doing its part by changing to LED lighting, increasing our insulation, buying panels in a community solar installation, and driving a fully electric Chevy Bolt and a plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica.

Some things have stayed constant over these six years, though. I am grateful for my loving family and safe home, for a faith that remains despite challenges, for music and poetry, and for the opportunity to share my thoughts here.

My hope is that I will be able to continue writing – and that, at least, a few of you will continue to visit me here at Top of JC’s Mind.

One-Liner Wednesday: change

The key to the passage of time is change.
– Abyssbrain of mathemagicalsite.wordpress.com

(This has been sitting in my drafts folder for a loooooong time. The site has since been deleted.)

Come join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday!  Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/03/27/one-liner-wednesday-spring-is-sprung/

One-Liner Wednesday: stories happen

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
– Clarissa Pinkola Estés
(Trying to remind myself of this today.)
*****
Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/03/20/one-liner-wednesday-i-take-it-back/