The once grand dame of an apartment house turned shabby that I describe in my novel Daffodil Uprising was real, though situated in Upstate New York rather than southern Indiana. A little bit more poetic license, if you will, in my relocating the blocky building.
I use the past tense, because satellite searches inform me the structure has been demolished, no doubt because of some of the health and safety issues the story relates. Bringing everything up to code would have cost a fortune.
Well, maybe a fire did it in. That, too, feels quite plausible.
When Kenzie and his two buddies flee their dorm, they have such high expectations. So did I, in what was supposed to be a haven after college. Look, this was what a professional journalist could afford – slum housing.
Still, the moldy manse was memorable and possibly haunted. I certainly heard rumors to that effect.
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.
My daily schedule’s been way out of whack: I’ve been awaking around 3 a.m. most days, doing a half-hour of Spanish study online, and launching into some compulsive writing and revision. That’s led to a deep afternoon nap, which makes sense on very hot days, but even so, my evenings are rarely in alignments with others’. It’s like I’ve become a hermit.
I missed a whole week of July: Yes, when I sat down to write some checks and realized the next day I was a whole week behind, I was shocked. How’d that happen?
I skipped a whole month in my journaling: That was the real shocker. Opening my journal in early August to catch up, I had to look twice to confirm that my last previous entry had been in mid-June. It’s not like nothing was happening in my life, either.
Didn’t get to the marketing drive: From a practical point of view, the thing I should have been doing for the past nine months is pushing my new novel into readers’ awareness. Instead, I was compulsively revising and drafting new material while the inspiration was still percolating madly. (What would you do?)
Block party nearly didn’t happen for the first time in 18 years: The neighbors behind us always have a boffo block party, and we’re included. This year, however, it almost never happened. First, the event got postponed from the usual time in late June or early July. Good reasons, I’d say – one family was off in Mexico, the grandparents’ of another family weren’t coming as usual, all but one of the kids who had grown up with the party were now off in college and the exception had a full slate of alternatives – that sort of thing. And then August got just as crazy. Somehow, on short notice, it happened on the penultimate Saturday of the month. Was there even a collector’s poster by the resident graphic designer? I was beginning to wonder if we’d be trying to catch up with it with their annual Soupa in November.
No hiking in the mountains or swimming in the ocean: I mean, we’re so close, but now that I have the yearlong pass to the Dover indoor pool, I have less motivation to drive an hour or so away to hit the water or trails. Not if I’m engaged in other stuff, especially.
We didn’t do much grilling: Summer typically means dining in what I’ve called our Smoking Garden, but I didn’t even get the strings of lights up overhead till early July rather than the beginning of May. When we have grilled, the food’s come indoors for the meal more often than stayed on the table outside. We’re not blaming all of it on the bugs, either.
So much for getting together: Had hoped to spend some time with three guys, especially. It just didn’t happen. Mea culpa. They’re all fascinating. Part of it was that out-of-whack schedule.
Too many weeds proliferated: Anyone else garden? Were they worse than usual this year?
Lost some of my favorite lifeguards: Look, there’s no escaping the reality that America’s graying. Some days it seems like there’s no one under 40 about in the nation. One of my principal connections with living, breathing youth has been at the indoor pool, where I’m trusting my life to their abilities. Keeping them from getting bored on the job’s been a pleasant challenge, but now the majority of them have graduated from high school and are off to college. Premed or the like for most. Did I mention they’re smart, even when they try to pretend otherwise? Seems like we should have had a party, but I don’t think they even had one for themselves. Best wishes, all the same.
In our part of the world, it’s been a short summer. That is, it’s felt even shorter than usual.
Normally, our summer doesn’t kick in until the Fourth of July, and that was the case this year. We had an uncommonly dry June and some oppressively hot, humid days in July. OK, it’s global warming, we know that much – the climatic instability shift that’s no longer deniable to anyone who’s been paying attention to reality. That’s left August, which included a very dark, rainy week.
So here we are, in what’s officially the final three weeks – usually some of our best, if we can get outdoors to engage in them. That is, if you don’t have kids in school. (Unofficially, of course, the whole thing ends on Labor Day weekend.)
Here are 10 highlights from my Summer of 2018:
The princess brigade: In the past year, a family from South Dakota has moved in down the street, and their two daughters have become good friends with another girl a few doors the other side of us. So all summer, they’ve been traipsing up and down our sidewalk, one house to the other. As their vacation wore on, they got inventive. One day, I heard the doorbell buzz, went to open the door, nobody was there, but a little bouquet was on the steps along with a note. Later, they were back again, saying I was the only one who responded. That was the beginning of similar exchanges, including cookies or brownies from us some days or having them pick blueberries on another. They’ve definitely brightened our summer.
Our student from China: For one month, we hosted a Chinese college student who had an internship at the Children’s Museum. He could walk to work. It was a delightful experience for all. By the way, he insists my fried rice is better than the version at the Chinese restaurant downtown. We’re hoping to repeat the experience next year.
Blueberry bonanza: We weren’t alone. Others reported gangbusters of blueberries. In our case, a new way of covering them with protective netting helped, too – the squirrels and birds didn’t scarf off with the harvest before we could get our share.
Productive drafting: I thought I was done revising my novels, that I could move into the next stage of supporting their publication. But then I made the mistake of opening an unfinished manuscript, one based on a character who appears in one of the novels, and felt an obsessive need to delve deeper into an understanding of her motivations and experiences. Let me say simply the venture took me into shady sides of my own emotions, and while I doubt I’ll ever release this work for publication, its pages do contain what I feel is some of my finest writing. I’m still not finished, but at least I’ve come to a place where I can take a breather. When I return to the file, the labor will be in smaller, less demanding portions.
Overdue framing: There’s a backlog of household projects to get to – there always is, if you live in an old home like ours – but I did finally get around to framing and hanging a number of pictures. Some, like the icons my wife brought back from Macedonia and Crete, still need a place on a suitable wall – something that’s in surprisingly short supply in our abode. But it is a break in an emotional ice jam on my part. Maybe scraping and painting the hallways will be next? Going through my surviving artwork from high school was also an illuminating experience. I did that?
A dear friend’s memoir: I felt honored to be asked if I’d take a look at her document but then put it aside until I could give it full attention. It was worth it. While we’ve known each other 30 years now, we always lived at a distance – the closest being an hour away and then five-plus hours and now several thousand miles. Still, having the opportunity to reconnect this way was a deep blessing and added greatly to my perspective, especially as details of her remarkable life fell into place here.
Ambience of New England Yearly Meeting: At this year’s sessions, some of us were carrying an awareness of our week together as being worship, not just in the Quaker business sessions but in our time of meals and chance conversations and even contradancing or the raucous coffee house evening as well. Instead of ending each of our business sessions with the traditional shaking of hands, our presiding clerk held back until the end of the final one, giving the action extra poignancy. If Western Christianity has nothing like the Eastern Orthodox Holy Week, where every day from Palm Sunday through Pascha (or Easter) has its intense liturgy, it is possible to realize how unique Quaker yearly meeting stands to that in its own way. In fact, our minuting of the sessions can be seen as writing the liturgy as we go rather than following an existing text – immersion liturgy, as one Friend quipped. Oh, yes, and reconnecting with special Friends was also personally renewing.
Our firewood stack: The delivery came less than a week after I ordered it, rather than a month or two later. Stacking the two cords in a pile to stay up at least a year for further seasoning is always hard toil for an office-type dude like me, but it also has a puzzle-solving aspect of fitting the pieces together. It’s done now, went faster than expected, actually, and I’m proud of how it looks. Will have even more satisfaction sitting beside the flames in our Jotul on a cold winter day.
Jenny Thompson outdoor pool: The indoor swimming pool always closes for annual maintenance the last two weeks of August, and those of us who have passes get to use the outdoor pool then without having to pay extra. The extra length of the lanes – 50 meters instead of 25 yards – can be a killer (my half-mile means eight laps outdoors rather than 18 indoors), but there’s something invigorating about being out in that late summer air, the wind rippling through the warning banners over each end of the pool, and the brilliant sunlight everywhere. On the backstroke, especially, counting the contrails of jetliners descending for Logan International Airport in Boston to our southwest or watching for bald eagles soaring off over the Cocheco River can add to my delight.
Greek festival: Dover’s Greek Orthodox church hosts its festival every Labor Day weekend, its welcome to the entire community. Unlike many similar events elsewhere, ours does not charge an entry, so the music and dancing are essentially free. OK, you can buy raffle tickets or a full meal and drinks as a means of supporting the fundraiser. Me? The old-time Quakers wouldn’t have had music, much less dancing or games of chance, but I love the contrast. (By the way, I learned only after the fact that Portsmouth’s Greek festival had returned in July after a hiatus last year. Oh, my, speaking of contrast.)
Across New England, the spire on city hall typically had prominent clock. Its purpose, I’m told, wasn’t just civic pride.
No, it was to keep the mill owners in check, just in case they were tinkering with their own clocks to squeeze unpaid time out of their workers.
It’s comforting to know the town fathers could stand up to corporate powers. Most of the owners, by the way, lived far from these sources of their wealth. Many of them were Boston Brahmins clustered around Harvard.
In honor of the workers and those who stand up for them, Happy Labor Day.
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.