With the release of Subway Visions, I’ve been returning to considerations of urban affairs. It’s not all New York City, either, even though the novel takes place there.
For me, the big city these days is Boston. I live an hour to the north – or northeast, more technically. I can even take the train in, as well as the hourly bus, which is quite comfortable and also links us to the airport. (You’d be surprised at the number of pilots and other airline personnel who are boarding from here.)
So we can go in for concerts or museums or dim sum on weekday mornings. We’re not exactly stuck in the sticks.
On the other hand, I live in a city of nearly 30,000 – the largest of a cluster of small cities that together form a larger population base to sustain our varied interests.
Portsmouth, 15 minutes to our south, is wealthier and more fashionable. It has probably as many restaurants per capita as Manhattan as well as several theater companies, the Music Hall, and art galleries.
The state university is ten minutes to our west, and about a third of its students rent apartments in our city. The school runs its own buses to serve them and anyone else who wants to pay to ride. Its library, of course, is a marvelous resource for independent writers and scholars.
In other words, I have no reason to feel deprived. Well, sometimes I wish the Harvard Book Store were closer or Symphony Hall. But I still have my choir in Watertown.
Looking at this has me recalling my mentor in political science, Vincent Ostrom, who coined the concept of “polycentric” to describe the overlapping jurisdictions that govern American polity. A city typically falls within a county, for instance, as well as a state and then the nation. Nowadays there may also be special districts to address things like water, pollution, or transportation needs.
As mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer took the concept in another direction by enhancing neighborhood identity and decision-making to revitalize a big city. Adjustments could be made in neighborhood settings even while having a central tax base, police and fire services, water and sewer system, and so on.
So my city has a much different identity and feel from Portsmouth or Durham or Rochester or Somersworth or the Berwicks over the state line in Maine. And yet we’re all conscious, even proud, of our identity as the Seacoast Region.
Do you see how these many circles begin to overlap, each adding to the richness we enjoy?
As the hippie phrase used to go, “Small is beautiful.” But, in this universe I’m describing, it doesn’t have to be confining or impoverishing, either.
For now, I do feel I have the best of both worlds.
Today, let’s let them welcome the official beginning of summer.
Once again, I’ll be in the choir along the Charles River as part of a free concert to welcome the autumn equinox and to praise the extraordinary cleanup of the once noxious waterway on its way to Boston Harbor.
For its 15th annual RiverSing, Boston Revels is moving the family-friendly event upstream from Cambridge and into the Allston section of Boston on the other bank.
We’ll be performing on a Saturday night, rather than Sunday, and it is part of an ongoing series of performances the park hosts, so we’ll have more publicity support than usual for a one-off event in what’s otherwise simply a good place to sunbathe in season.
But the change also means we won’t have our usual gaudy parade down a congested street from Harvard Square to the makeshift stage beside the John W. Weeks Footbridge. That procession has always been glorious and joyfully chaotic, but greatly annoying to any number of drivers waiting to continue on the busy thoroughfare we were blocking. Not all of them are amused, believe me.
On the other hand, free parking won’t be scarce, either, and we’ll be on a permanent stage at the Herter Park amphitheater, which also includes seats for the audience rather than bring-your-own-chairs or blankets on the ground.
For me, it’s always been memorable. Imagine looking down from the back row and watching a pianist in the guest group with us and thinking, “He’s an incredible keyboardist” – and then hearing he plays in the Boston Pops Orchestra. Or singing behind Noel Paul Stuckey of Peter, Paul, and Mary. That’s even before the sunsets, which we get to see from the stage but are behind the audience. This year, it will be off to the side of everyone. Get the picture?
Join us tonight, if you can. For details, go to the Boston Revels website.
Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.
- Somehow as a Subway Hitchhiker (at least in my imagination and dreaming) I’ve settled in a small city in a cluster of small cities amid moose and deer and the occasional black bear. As well as the eagle, overhead. Here, with my city farm, as we garden.
- Always the Outsider – even when I’m the Leader.
- This slow process of learning to trust each other again.
- Yet some Wants are also Needs! (To be loved, accepted – even as a writer – even successful or victorious in some manner.)
- My Wall is an aspect of Control. (Even if it’s so classic it’s trite.)
- Sometimes it seems we don’t play. We don’t play enough.
- The pathway is not straight but strait. Not even like a tightrope. No wonder I’m so often off-kilter.
- In the beginning was the Plan and the Plan was (as I paraphrase the gospel of John). Yes, simply was. And all we have to do is step into it! As if it could really be that simple.
- This is hardly a Literary Life. How different my work would be had I led another existence. Something with more time for serious reading, teaching, refined social circles. Rather than laboring out in the field.
- So comforting, this thick terrycloth bathrobe that reaches to my ankles – not a given, at all, when you’re tall. Nice way to round out the year.
Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.
- Is anything more relaxing than sitting in front of a wood fire? Even when it means sitting on the floor?
- Gift-buying husbands? Just look! As she says, they’re subjected to indentured shop-itude.
- First day of winter and the flannel sheets should be on the bed by now, if not earlier. Flip the mattress and rotate, too.
- Our traditional Christmas dinner includes fresh homegrown Brussels sprouts, which means I’m out in the garden harvesting – sometimes in several feet of snow. Likewise with kale and chard: frost improves the flavor.
- Let me suggest Mary, as the mother of the church … a slightly different twist on the Nativity story.
- For someone who’s lived under relentless deadlines, Christmas itself can be seen as another damn deadline. Or series of deadlines. This year, I think I’m ahead.
- Still, I’m deeply grateful for the sense of release – notes, poems, correspondence … the logjam broken … now that the poems and novels are available.
- Grandfathers have grandfathers too. In case you’re in one of those inner-child perspectives.
- What are the theological dimensions of Alzheimer’s or dimentia? Where are the connections – the response ability – when your story gets so fragmented you’re no longer connected to anything you encounter?
- Tell me something true.