How Does JC’s Mind Work? #1

For months/years, I have threatened/promised to write about how I got to be who I am today and what shaped me along the way. This sporadic series will try to unpack my personal history and influences and, I hope, set people to thinking about their own.

So, I seem to have developed a bad habit of starting a new series here at Top of JC’s Mind at the (almost) worst possible time, as I did when starting JC’s Confessions. (Shameless plug. See link to those posts in my main menu.)

Some readers have expressed interest in knowing how I evolved into the creature I currently am and, particularly during these fraught times, there seems to be new impetus for examining our viewpoints and how we came to hold them, so I thought I’d try to break open some of that for readers.

It seems logical to start with one of the early, fundamental parts of my life, which is that I have rural roots.

And I mean, really rural.

I grew up in a town along the Massachusetts/Vermont border with a population of about 200. We had our own grammar school, grades one through eight when I entered, expanding to kindergarten through eighth when Massachusetts mandated kindergarten when I was in fifth grade or so, housed in three classroom in a WPA-built building that also had the town office, small public library, and a gym that was used by the school and for town meetings and events. There was a small general store that included a post office, which we visited every day to get our mail, but we usually shopped in North Adams, which was twenty miles away and offered more grocery selections at lower prices. We also attended high school in North Adams. It’s where my spouse B and I met, although that is definitely another story.

Although the town was small, it had two distinct sections. Down in “The Bridge” lived the people who worked in the mill, which made specialty paper products, like the wrappers for Necco wafers. They were mostly European immigrant stock, drawn to the area to work in the mill. Up on “The Hill” were the older Yankee stock, some of whom farmed or worked for the town itself, doing roadwork, plowing, etc. They also got Rural Free Delivery of their mail, so they didn’t need to come down to the post office every day, which was a blessing especially in the winter when the unpaved road from The Hill to The Bridge shut down for months and could only be traversed by snowmobile.

My family did not live in either section. Our house was about a mile from The Bridge and was owned by New England Power Company, for whom my father, known here as Paco, worked. It was located near an unmanned hydroelectric station so Paco could reach it quickly if needed. It, an observation stand, and one of the first commercial nuclear power plants in the United States which shared the hydro reservoir with the much older station were our closest neighbors.

Like other small New England towns, everyone knew everyone else and co-operated in running the school and the town. For the most part, people took care of themselves and their families, although everyone kept an eye out for a few townfolks who had special challenges due to age or health.

Then, the mill closed.

A few people re-located to Georgia where the company had another mill, but most lost their jobs and, because the whole area was having similar closures in the manufacturing sector which was the backbone of the economy, many moved away. Certainly, people in my generation moved to other places where they could get work. The population dropped to under a hundred. The school closed when they had only seven students in K-8.

Last August, I was back in the area and wrote this post, which includes some photos from the town and a bit of additional backstory.

So, what does all of this have to do with who I am today?

Growing up in the country gave me an appreciation of the natural world, its beauty, and power. I knew the names of the trees and plants and birds in the woods around our house and knew to respect the bears that sunned themselves on the rocks on the hill opposite our house, the deer that came down to drink from the reservoir, and the porcupines, that, for some reason, liked to chew on our back steps. Especially because Paco worked in hydro, we payed attention to the weather; it was important to know how much water was in the snowpack to handle the spring runoff and how high the winds might be with a storm, in case they threatened the power lines. Also, when it is twenty miles and over a mountain to get to a doctor or store or other services, you have to know how much snow is coming and when.

Like most rural folks, we gardened and bought food from local farmers. We did some of our own canning, including making bread-and-better pickles, and freezing fruits and vegetables. We always had a well-stocked pantry and freezer because you couldn’t easily run to the store if you were out of something. We did most of our cooking and baking from scratch and, like most rural New Englanders, made sure to use everything, like making stock from poultry carcasses. A lot of these skills have come in handy during the pandemic when shopping has been difficult and supply chains unreliable.

Living in such a small town gave me an appreciation of community, of working together to accomplish a task with people who hold a range of opinions and viewpoints, and to always watch out for the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. While there was seldom overt reference to it, you usually knew what struggles families were facing and were respectful of them.

I admit that I also learned what it feels like to be an outsider. I didn’t live in The Bridge or on The Hill. Because my family was Irish-Italian, instead of just having one ethnic background, I didn’t fit in a category, not that this was a detriment because it averted the “dumb (insert ethnicity here) jokes” and what would now be heard as ethnic slurs from getting lobbed my way. I guess I also learned that people can make divisions among what would look to some observers to be a racially and economically homogeneous group. My grade in grammar school was relatively large. Although we had a couple of people move in and out, our core was four girls. The other three were all cousins who lived on The Hill, so I was destined to be an outsider. This was compounded by some academic decisions of our teachers that sometimes had me working with the grade above ours or on my own. I see this tension between community and solitary pursuits continue to play out in my life over time.

Because of what happened to my town when the mill closed and because I have continued to live in an area with a similar loss of long-standing industries, jobs, and population, I can sympathize with other folks who face similar situations in their towns. In my days of frequent interaction over issues around fracking and other energy/climate issues, I would often run into people with fears of what was happening with jobs in their towns. I could certainly sympathize with the issues, but I think where I differed was that they expected that their children and grandchildren would stay in town and have the same jobs with the same company as they, their parents, and perhaps even their grandparents had had. I, on the other hand, always knew that I would need to leave my town and make a life elsewhere.

Some people growing up in small towns dream of big-city life, but I am not one of them. Large, busy cities are overwhelming for me. The traffic makes me so nervous I don’t even like to look out the windows of the vehicle. I’m uncomfortable being in crowds and feel hemmed in with large buildings adjoining each other on both sides of the street. Still, I like the opportunities for shopping, restaurants, medical services, and cultural activities that a city can provide.

I think that is why I am content with the Binghamton NY area, where I have lived for close to forty years. There are small city opportunities nearby, but also rural landscapes, hills, trees, and wildlife. Given where I grew up, I don’t think of this area as “small town” but that is a matter of perspective. People that grew up in or near New York City talk about Binghamton as though it is “the country” but, for me, an actual small town girl, it’s plenty big.

How about you? Do you see your environment while growing up as impacting your life and decisions now? Comments are always welcome here at Top of JC’s Mind.

SoCS: cheek to cheek

“Heaven. I’m in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak, and I seem to find the happiness I seek, when we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.”

This has been running through my head every since I read Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week. [Note: Given that this is running through my head, I may have made a mistake in the text. I also am not sure of the composer and lyricist, but it is one of the Great American Songbook sort.]

I also have a black-and-white movie version of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing around in my head. Again, I’m not sure if there is a movie that meets this description. I don’t know if this is memory or imagination.

It reminds me that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in heels. Somehow, he gets more credit than she, though.

I wonder if, now that I have written this, the song and dance in my head will stop…
*****
In case you didn’t guess, Linda’s prompt this week is “cheek.” Follow this link: https://lindaghill.com/2020/02/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-15-2020/ to learn more and join us!

 

 

SoCS: where?

Where I’ve been was a topic I addressed in a recent post. The short answer is Slovenia. I have done a number of posts about the trip with more to come.

The long answer, aside from my physical location at home, is in the ozone. Well, not literally. Or in a fog. Not literally that, either.

I’ve been juggling a lot of things for a long time, primarily caretaking for various people. After my mom, known as Nana here at TJCM, passed away in May and after the immediate busy-ness of the funeral and the bunch of paperwork and phone calling that needed to happen, I had hoped that I could be more organized and not feeling like my mind is scattered most of the time, but no. At least, not so far.

A friend reassured me that it is still early days, that my sense of clarity will return, but that it takes a long time.

Admittedly, it doesn’t make sense to reorganize my life now anyways. We are in the final weeks of having daughter E and granddaughter ABC in residence. We expect her visa to come through sometime soon and then she will need to move to London within 30 days. I am expecting that, when they leave after 2+ years of living here, there will be another period that is like mourning, too.

So, I guess it may be a long time before I feel like I can think, plan, write, organize, as I used to.

Before I feel like I know where I am going.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “where.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/08/09/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-august-10-19/

SoCS badge by Pamela, at https://achronicalofhope.com/

SoCS: lack of concentration

Since my mother-in-law died unexpectedly this spring, I have been having a real problem with lack of concentration.

I’m sure it hasn’t been helped by a string of other events that have been demanding time and attention…

I find myself starting something, having something else pop into my head that I need to attend to, hopping over to that – and maybe something else – or two somethings else – before getting back to what I was doing in the first place.

I’m sure it isn’t very efficient…

I realize part of it is the result of my seeming inability to sleep consistently. And the fact that there is just a lot to do on a lot of different fronts.

I think part of it, though, is that it is genuinely harder to concentrate for extended periods of time.

My brain gets tired.

I find myself playing mindless games on the computer while the television is on in the evening. Often, the television isn’t demanding too much concentration in and of itself. I used to use part of evening TV time to visit and comment on other blogs, but I can’t seem to do it anymore.

It takes too much concentration.

Have I mentioned that I’m having a problem with concentration lately?
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “concentration.” Please join us!  Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2016/07/08/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-916/

SoCS badge 2015

 

One-Liner Wednesday: Words

“Words are a path to the mind; poetry is a drug for the soul.” 
– J. T. Carlton
http://jtcarlton.com/2015/08/09/words-vs-poetry/

This post is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays. Come join us! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/10/14/one-liner-wednesday-im-driving-here/

One-Liner Wednesday: change

“Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart.”
— The 14th Dalai Lama

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/09/16/one-liner-wednesday-because-seriously-no-one-wants-to-be-around-me/

SoCS: Top of JC’s Mind

…because, seriously, when the prompt is “mind”, how could I not?

I started Top of JC’s Mind almost two years ago because several people told me that I should start a blog. I had originally planned to call it Top of My Mind, but that was already taken, so I put my initials in the title instead.

I know that I couldn’t contain myself to a single topic, so I set out to write about whatever is on the top of my mind, but that isn’t quite true.

You see, the top of my mind is a pretty crowded space. If I wrote about everything that was on the top of my mind in any given day, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else.

So, I write only a bit of what is at the top of my mind – and those bits have been distributed differently than I originally envisioned.

I had thought that I would write a lot about fracking – or anti-fracking, really – because I spent many moons writing commentary on it as part of the anti-fracking grassroots in New York State. And there is some writing in that vein, along with climate change and other environmental themes, but, with the (mostly) ban in place, that has slowed down, perhaps much to the relief of readers, as well as fracktivists.

I also thought that I would post more poetry than I do. The reason is that I am trying to publish in literary journals, nearly all of whom will only consider work that is not previously published. And, for the most part, that means that if they can google it, they won’t accept it, even if it is only out on my little blog with a dozen views. Consequently, I don’t put too many of my poems here unless they have appeared elsewhere first. Generally, the rights revert back to me after publication.

I have written more about family and personal experiences than I intended, largely due to circumstances. A year ago, our elders, Nana, Paco, and Grandma, all ran into health challenges and the top, middle, and bottom of my mind were all pretty much filled up with care-taking and concern. Then, there are the more fun family things to post, like spending five weeks in Hawai’i with my daughter E.

I do want to get back to posting more about topics, such as feminism, politics, and religion/ethics. The life of the mind is important to me. I just wish there was a more direct and faster way to get my thoughts onto the (computer) page.

Although that would be overwhelming.

No one needs that much Top of JC’s Mind.

Except for me, of course, for whom there is no escape…
*****
This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday.  This week’s prompt is “mind.” Join us!  Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/08/21/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-august-2215/

SoCS badge 2015

One-Liner Wednesday: education

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
– Aristotle

This post is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday.  Join us! Link here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/05/13/one-liner-wednesday-throw-em-a-pool-noodle/

Mind? What mind?

The top of JC's mind, or at least, the top of JC's head
The top of JC’s mind, or at least, the top of JC’s head

I’m up in the middle of the night again. Theoretically, I could write a post from the backlog of things I have queued in my head or draft folder, but I don’t have enough sustained focus to do so. Instead, what follows will be (part of) the swirl that constitutes the “top” of my mind at the moment.

* I wonder if I will get my pre-election open letter to Governor Cuomo written before the election. It would be about the fracking moratorium, of course, the emerging science, the threat we feel here of being a sacrifice zone, the need to chuck the current outdated and corrupt draft SGEIS, etc.

* Ebola.  Seriously, people in the US, get a grip!  Other than a few dozen people, your chance of exposure to ebola is non-existent.  If you want to do something useful for your health, get a flu shot – and catch up on any other immunization you might need.  Millions of people have died from flu complications around the world over the years.  It is easy to catch and transmit. Flu vaccine works partly by having lots of people immunized, creating herd immunity to help protect people who can’t be immunized and the percentage of people who will develop flu despite being immunized, who will generally have milder cases because they were immunized than if they had not been.

* So much war and violence.  I don’t actually know if I could write a post about this.  People are – and should be – so much better than this by now.

* The confusing muddle of the synod of the family and evangelization, which will be continuing at least for another year.

* The comfort that the beauty of a glorious Northeast foliage season has been in these past few weeks of dashing about on caretaking duty.

* The rest of my planned follow-up to Smith Alumnae Chorus event posts.

* More chapters to My (Feminist) Story.

* Poetry, which is the one thing I have committed to making progress on, despite the swirl going on in my head.  Truthfully, I’m not doing everything I had intended to with it, but I have made all three meetings of the poetry critique group I have joined and where I have found welcome, help, and acceptance, begun the five-week fall semester of Binghamton Poetry Project, and may even attend, though probably not read at, my first ever open mic next week.  I don’t have the time to do the research I need to figure out submissions, I owe a thoughtful email to a poet friend, and I wish that I had time/brain to write and edit more, but I am giving myself a pat on the back for making some progress.

* At some point, I really will get some of my Hawai’i photos – from May! – in shape to post FB albums and to re-post blog entries with some photos added.  I hope to do this before our next visit to the Islands…

* Spiritual matters.  There is so much going on  – experiences with our elder and younger generations, a recent parish mission, studying Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond, missing contact with my spiritual mentor/companion and other friends with whom I can share soul-conversation.

* An update to my empty nest post.  Something along the lines of when the sandwich generation goes open-face…

Maybe I should attempt some more sleep before dawn.  Or attack the mounds of mail that arrived this week…  At least I attended vigil Mass yesterday so I don’t need to drive about and try to be attentive for church this morning.  And B. promised to make us a nice Sunday breakfast this morning.