Don’t Miss This Going to the Socrates Sculpture Park

My new friend Julie isn’t it funny how sometimes you like people and sometimes you don’t based on almost nothing at all I liked Julie right away for no particular reason she said her parents were coming into town and she wondered where she should take them. Where should they go.  Curious midwesterners she said. I know very few things. Certainly no Genuine Information. But I have always always known Where To Go. Especially in New York City, a place I have loved for so long.

Take them to Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City I said. It’s incredibly beautiful. I could tell you more but incredibly beautiful is the most appropriate description. Right on the water. There’s a newish piece there, an inside out piece you can walk into and around, beautiful strong harlem woman who is now almost a solid boat. It’s right across the street from the Noguchi studio and museum and if you like your sculpture in a more formal setting Noguchi is more or less perfect. There’s an interior Japanese garden at Noguchi where you can sit with someone you like or love or you can sit alone, all day.  Then you can take a bus an easy bus to Astoria, and have one of those Greek meals you’d like to eat every day.

Middlefield 3 How We Began

 

 

 

 

 

Middlefield

 

 

Soft green summers, wet and full. The kind of summers where you hear corn grow, and early morning smells like sugary peach cobbler. Friends slowly walk in and out of one another’s houses with all the languid promise of teenagers listening to one long piece of music. People laughed easily, more easily than they’d laughed in years, and the crickets, instead of their buggy twittering, actually seemed to chirp. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought we were all in a Disney movie, one of those summer films with big floppy dogs named Ben and old men on swings telling each other jokes, and falling in love with Shirley MacLaine.

 

We were New Yorkers in a small upstate town, Middlefield, part earthly paradise and part hell, depending on who you were. The people in the paradise half tended to be New Yorkers, or ex, =country types, the sort of people who ordered cotton weekend clothes in primary colors out of catalogues, slick mail order books where all the models were thin and tanned and looked like they came from Western Massachusetts. The New Yorkers had good jobs – lawyers, teachers, editors, real estate brokers. We bought old farmhouses for less than the price of a studio apartment in New York City. We liked places with views of orchards, with winding creeks and old sycamore trees. Then we filled up those houses with Viking stoves and expensive pots, with auction house rocking chairs, copper tea kettles and McCoy vases, giving themselves a history they could buy. We planted gardens full of heritage vegetables that all seemed to glow. What we wanted from the country was a little hard to say: a simpler life, maybe, a little bit more time, or maybe just the chance to nest.

The people whose lives were a little more real were the locals, a hardbitten group who had their own appeal. They were practical and tough. They could do things, a lot of things, like plough fields and build barns and bake apple pies with their eyes closed. They were wiser than the New Yorkers, less naive about what the earth could do, and what they saw. They didn’t confuse a raspberry’s sweetness with its price. But their lives weren’t easy. They didn’t have much money, and their children didn’t have too many choices. They went to hopeless fifties schools, green rooms with desks in rows and teachers who’d been patient long enough. They married too young, found themselves with little children and a lot of debt, with tired jobs where they worked long hours and never had time to do what they’d planned.

The two worlds had some occasion to intersect. Usually there wasn’t all that much hostility between them. Locals thought city types were more or less useless. They hired people to do things they should have done themselves, like washing windows and tilling gardens. City people could be condescending. They knew the locals didn’t read The New York Times. But the kids played together every summer, biking the very same roads, swimming in noisy profusion along the Catskill Creek.

Once a day each summer, most of the Middlefield residents, locals and weekenders alike, would stop at the Daily Harvest farm stand on the intersection of Route 28 and 9G. It was on the way no matter where you were going. For auto parts, for milk, for a swim in the creek, to pick up the mail. The farmstand was the local meeting ground, our house of worship and conversation.

No matter who you were or what you thought or how you voted, you’d buy your vegetables there. Fresh each day. Even if you grew them, you went to look at theirs. It had been an inn a century before, a stop for strangers on the way from their villages to Albany, to do their business.

During the bright yellow corn-filled months of summer right through the fragrant green and red buckets of apples into Crayola colored orange pumpkins, people flocked to Daily Harvest, sometimes just to talk. There would always be someone there, holding a paper cup of lemonade, or Kool Aid, or iced tea. They kept an old refrigerator out by the stand, for herbs and some of the greens that would wilt too easily in the sun, beet greens and kale,sweet basil and chard. Every morning the children would make big jugs full of drinks, and we’d all just help ourselves. There’d be cookies too. Whatever was on sale at the supermarket that week, they’d lay out on paper napkins on round straw trays.

Middlefield is beautiful, not in the even-handed careful way of paintings, of wealthy summer towns where every blade of grass stands at attention before it’s mowed down. It was beautiful in a wild and fragrant way, like horses and lillies and young children allowed their freedom, like dogs who can run all they want. It was beautiful like the moon, and like those memories all of us have of when we were young, and someone kissed us outside in the dark, by the cemetery, on a seawall, or in an open field. Middlefield was not a muted place. It was not careful or correct. The light, no matter what time of day, what time of year, fell out across the valley of old black locust trees, gnarled and knotted, stretching up into the heavens like limber Sufi dancers. The village was one of those places where one god or another was hovering around, helping the flowers and vegetables grow.

Here’s how we bought our house. By driving around. In a funny way buying

 

a house is a little like all those big and entirely ordinary parts of life

 

that you can’t conceive when someone else describes them to you, no

 

matter how articulate they might be. Like sex or children, two words as common as any,

 

two nouns that are as much a part of being human as arms and legs. But if I were

 

to try to tell you about sex for instance (and god knows many thousands even millions

 

of people have tried) I don’t know that I could let you know what it feels like (not

 

wonderful and frightening, not disappointing and cataclysmic, not unexpected and

 

addictive, but small pieces of all of those). Not really. I could give you an instance

 

or two, the way people often do: I saw him, and then. Or I saw him but I didn’t know.

 

 

Houses, especially for those of us who don’t have them in the usual way, those of us

 

in this peculiar Boomerish generation that ran away from the ordinary, and one of

 

the most ordinary words on the planet is House, we ran away from curtains say, or

 

dishes that matched, we ran away from convention, from words like normal. But

 

there’s always an even so. Even so, we who wanted to believe that who we were

 

was original, that we were living, somehow, in unchartered territory, that we would

 

create a New Life, whatever New might mean.

 

 

Eight Agents, One Husband

My Life, in Poems

 

 

 

 

Tell Me Anything

 

Some people

I am one of them

want to know everything

even when it is absolutely

none of my business want to know why

tea party woman across the street

we only said hello once or twice

she said a weather sentence

hot or cold was more or less it

I want to know why she

left her husband about whom

I know absolutely nothing his name is George

he does something with trucks.

 

Some people why are we like this

I was born listening to Julia C. Steele

my next door neighbor

in the small factory town

where I grew up

she was a librarian she was having

an affair with a married woman

this was a long time ago

and they seemed happy

I didn’t know what an affair was

But I knew they seemed happy

married woman

Was a fifth grade teacher

my father went to grammar school

with her and when I told him

what was happening how did I even

know he said Don’t Be Crazy

went back to reading

The New York Times

which he didn’t think

was crazy at all.

 

One day a few years later

Julia C. Steele ran away

With the fifth grade teacher

actually got in a car and drove

away they didn’t say goodbye

they didn’t come back and my father

a kind man a serious man

I loved my father said to me

because I was sitting on the porch

I knew they were leaving

wanted to see them go

why are they leaving he said

because they love one another

I told him. He was an

Un huh kind of man

So that’s what he said.

 

Middlefield Prologue Here It Is (Sort Of) #1

It is I who must begin

Vaclav Havel

 

It is I who must begin.

Once I begin, once I try

Here and now,

Right where I am,

Not excusing myself

By saying things

Would be easier elsewhere,

Without grand speeches and

Ostentatious gestures,

But all the more persistently

. . .to live in harmony

with the “voice of Being,” as I

understand it within myself

….as soon as I begin that,

I suddenly discover,

To my surprise, that

I am neither the only one,

Nor the first,

Nor the most important one

To have set out

On that road.

 

Whether all is really lost

Or not depends entirely on

Whether or not I am lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREFACE, ONCE AGAIN

 

Because we left our house, our house that is so much more than beautiful, I am writing this story.

 

I am writing this story because I have to, because I don’t know what else to do but tell this story to any friend or any stranger who will listen. It’s that kind of story, obsessive and Ancient Marinerish, about a place we had to leave.

 

Because we are no longer able, for all the reasons

divorce occurs, to be in the place we love the most.

 

What really happened here?

We don’t all agree on good stories and what they are. I have a friend, she is not a good friend but friend is the right word her name is Maura who told me that stories are at their best when they are about information. She likes her facts, and in some way, what the facts are about doesn’t much matter. She reads to understand.

 

 

About me, and maybe it will help for you to understand this story if you understand who I am, for me I would say that I can’t remember a time I didn’t read, don’t remember ever being anywhere without a book, even for one day. My friend Linda slept with two books under her pillow. Just to have them there. The books I choose, that sit by my bed, they are actual books with pages, they aren’t on anything that could be called a device, they are novels and stories and poems.

 

Every once in a while, maybe once a year, maybe less, someone I know will give me a book that is full of facts. History say, or memoir, Lyndon Johnson or Audre Lord, bio physics or medical cures, neurobiology or a big voyage somewhere like The Dismal Swamp.

 

Sometimes I read them. And sometimes not. I’d rather read a bad novel, although that does not speak well for the seriousness of my character.

 

 

 

 

When we decided it wasn’t so much a decision as a waning away when we had no choice but to sell our house, to recognize every single thing changes there is nothing that doesn’t although some of us are very good at pretending that it doesn’t it won’t that nothing will that we can hold on as tightly as possible, just hold on, we can hold on forever. It takes a while to realize that there is no forever. Sometimes there are big moments when life happens, and the rest of the time, we just float along.

 

This morning my friend Earl described the day he left the seminary. Forty years ago, he was going to become a priest and so he entered a Paulist seminary for a year, where he took a vow of silence. He thought, which he called contemplated because that’s who Earl is a man who contemplates. He walked, he did menial jobs, and he spent time, so much time, considering his own fate. After a year, he decided that priesthood was not for him. Not what he wanted. So he called his brother Eddie and asked Eddie to come and get him. A day later Eddie was there, driving an old family car. They rode away just like that.

 

I said to Earl, a man I like, as different from me as anyone could be, I said what did it feel like to be picked up in that car. To be taken out of a place you’ve been for a life-changing year, a year of intensity, of silence, of introspection and a year when it’s you and the place where you’re living.

 

I’m not the type to look back Earl said. I just didn’t. I never thought for a minute about what happened before. I just moved on. That’s what I do. I move on.

 

Not me. I live my life like I’m an onion, and every single layer is part of the one before. I’ve never been someone who doesn’t connect the parts of my life, who keeps all my friends separate.  So many do. I know that. Know that most people, is it most people, it’s hard to say, most people like to separate all the parts of their lives.

For me work and play have always been one long song. People too. The people I love, and there are more than some, I have beenvery lucky in the love department, I want them to love one another. This doesn’t always happen.

 

So leaving anyone and anywhere is always a big event. We don’t want to leave. We don’t like to leave. Sometimes there’s just no choice. Even the word fissure generates a feeling of dread. I haven’t ended too many friendships. And those that ended, nearly all of them, are still a painful wound.

 

I stay where I am for as long as I can. So does Nick. We are always happy enough where we are, and it would be hard for us to imagine leaving Just Because. We’re not the leaving types, either one of us.  We are both trees more than feathers, accustomed to staying put.

 

 

 

It will not be easy, driving away. Packing up our lives,.

Today we’re still right here. Sitting on our incomparable porch, doing nothing much but looking up.

 

But this time we know, this will not last.

 

 

We will leave this  place we truly loved, not for big reasons of power politics, not because of endless tribalism that makes lands mine or yours but for the very ordinary reasons of daily life, the life we all live every one of us no matter who we are no matter what we are. This fact is so easy to forget. This fact that life, our real true life, isonly and always dailiness. Even in war. Even in sickness. Even when the inconceivable

is happening. What we have, most of all, the heart of what we have is every day.

 

Days are different from history or memory, from conviction or any sort of belief, and while you can look at a day from any lens at all, and we have so many peculiar classifications even gluten has become a Big Classification now but for years I never heard the word gluten used in a sentence.

 

It feels like every single day I’m telling this same story, over and over again. Everyday. Until I can be sure that you understand what it is I want to tell you. What I want to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So many voices, days to tell you about, storied days. So you will understand why this particular love happened. And why it’s so hard to leave. Whoever I meet

in this small village wants to tell me wants to tell you too what living here means. What we see depends so clearly on who we are, and in a place like this one excriating in its wild green beauty imagine the opposite of the word tended and its not untended either what a field might look like if the compulsion to tend to order to control to make decisions for that field just wasn’t there, and then there is the smell of peonies, the pink petally high pitched smell that’s only there, only right there, in this imperfect place.


It’s not just the peonies that we loved.

 

I’m not saying there aren’t peonies in other places. Of course there are. Still, there is something about these very peonies.

Marge, the local ex policewoman she’s in her eighties and chain smoked for most of those eighty years

I see her every summer day every single day in the post office she lives there all summer Marge says it’s just the way these peonies are pink. She’s right.

 

 

We are every single one of us even if we don’t want to be we are all tribal no matter what. Dogs run up our hill with other dogs. But sometimes we are lucky enough and luck does play a role a big role even sometimes we are lucky enough to choose our own tribe.

 

 

Someone here maybe the town supervisior his name is Jeremy Ohm but he’s never meditated certainly never took a yoga class I’m sure of that he might have been the hamlet namer. He often makes blanket statements because he made some money in a pipe fitting business and so he’s considered wise.

 

The post office is our living breathing center, and our post mistress Irene, our town crier, our Ancient Mariner, our own version of Chaucer and his characters Irene is the person we pay the most attention to.

 

When I told her we were leaving she came out from

behind the window to give me an uncharacteristic hug. Irene is not a hugger.

 

“You’ll never be gone from here,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: