Outdoorsy-ness

I almost went camping.

I’ll let that settle in for a moment. I know, I know. It’s true. It’s an almost.

Over the past almost two years, I’ve been sharing all my outdoorsy adventures. Through various woods. On several beaches. Up into the mountains. Swarmed by insects. Delighted by skies. Scared of noises in the brush. I’ve stumbled through nature, learning to walk tall.

In early October, I went hiking. I didn’t share it. I kept it private because I’d met a man. He was hiking with me that day, and it felt special. We went to a park where he’d never been, and I actually took the lead, finding my way around for some of it. Most of it was wandering for me, though, as it always is. He clearly could find his way, said he loved being outside, and said he liked camping. He asked if I would be interested in going camping with him.

Y’all know my usual response would be a resounding Nope followed by much laughter at the thought. I surprised myself in that moment because I didn’t even answer immediately. I’d paused. There was not a no. There was a me saying I’d be willing to try it. He got excited, explaining the best times we’d be able to go before the weather turned. I explained that his excitement could dampen when he realized I would not be helpful in any way, and basically, he’d have to keep me alive. He said he didn’t care and that the most difficult part would be figuring out what I could eat (canned meat was not an option, clearly). Our hike lasted several hours that day, and after that day, we went on to enjoy more than outdoorsy things together.

We never went camping. We’d talked about it. We’d talked about a lot of future fun. There was so much to do and share with each other. None of that happened either. Sometimes things fall apart.

Here’s why I’m grateful. First, the brief recap: my grandmother died, my dad died, my husband disappeared, I started to crawl out of the pit of grief and depression, started kind of dating again, and then pandemic hit. During pandemic, the guy I was seeing on and off cut things off, and I fell back into the pit, realizing I’d never grieved my dad because I’d been grieving my other loss. I started to crawl out of the pit, but with no vaccine yet and my desire to live and not kill those compromised around me, rebounding and dating was not an option. So I worked. I delighted in friendships. I wrote. I meditated. I hiked. I walked. I practiced yoga. I worked out. I went to museums. I danced from room to room in my house. I did all the things I do that create my happiness. I got vaxxed. Then this past summer, I felt it. With the fear that this little body would not be able to take another loss, I still felt the desire to find a man who could share a life.

Manifestation is powerful. The men showed up in my life in strange and sundry ways. None of them were right for me, and that was fine. I didn’t expect to find someone right away.

And then I did. I found a man who was everything I’d been looking for.

And then it didn’t work out.

So again, why I’m grateful. Here’s another loss, and here I am, still standing. This little body is whole. This little body thrives. And when I say this little body, I mean all that is me (setting aside the Buddhist-self-doesn’t-exist-body-isn’t-me-philosophy for now). Resilience is exhausting. Being strong is exhausting. Still, I’m grateful I get to be exhausted because that means I’m living a life.

I haven’t written much about my personal life since I got divorced. That experience changed how I see public versus private content. Sharing publicly all the highs and hiding all the very lows seemed dishonest. I wasn’t into airing the lows of my marriage because I didn’t realize they were lows at the time, and now I can’t see the point in sharing half a story moving forwards. However, I can share what I learn and what I know.

Because I’ve decided that I’m not moving from my house any time soon (I bought air conditioners, y’all—it’s an investment), I’ve been tidying up and clearing out trinkets. I found a box in my living room that felt empty, but when I looked inside, I startled. I didn’t remember I’d saved it. I found the parking receipt for the park from the hike where we’d talked about camping. When I found it, I remembered the moment clearly—I’d taken it from my hiking bag and went to throw it out. Then I’d stopped myself, feeling that feeling of this could be something, and put it in a new box. It was a memory of new beginnings, something I’d thought was going to be more than simply a passing by but a long term reality.

The reality is that it was a passing by after all. My heart is catching up to what my head already knows, and it’s difficult; getting through it is. Getting through it is also exhilarating.

This week, I went on a hike. The leaves are at peak autumn colors. I climbed up steep slopes, got caught up in thorny brush, kept to the trails, and found my way. Yes, that’s a metaphor, too.

Last week, my panel about creators getting through grief with gratitude came to be a realization. The next day, I talked on a panel about being in the creative field. It felt right, like I’d found the crossroads of all I’m meant to do. I don’t know if I’ll keep writing here. Because it’s not a revelation that I go outside anymore, the outdoorsy series pretty much ends here. Maybe if there’s a trip in the future to share or a really fun exhibit, I’ll come on back. To write about heartache is difficult, and as I said before, that line between public and private remains tricky for me.

Also, I’m a writer. This is who I am. Now more than ever I realize why I write. I write to connect, to let people know they are not alone, to share suffering along with joy. And I thank you always for listening.

And I’ve said this before many times, and I’ll keep saying it–to all y’all who help hold me up when I need it most and also celebrate all the wins in kind, you have my heart.

Microblogging (Bringing It Back For All The Feels)

Unauthorized Recap of Unauthorized Banksy

The one story that sticks out to me about Banksy was the auction-house piece that shredded itself. That’s fun. I can appreciate graffiti; I’ve been on several do-it-yourself-graffiti-walking-tours in both the U. S. and Canada (I love Canada!). Interestingly, an indoor exhibit can take graffiti from the outside and hang it in a way that it glows from within. It was pretty neat.

You get one guess as to what happened when B and I first got to the exhibit. Like, aside from here’s my ID and vax card. If you guessed that I had to find a bathroom, you are correct. Bathrooms—not just for hiking. This meant careening through two floors of the exhibit, trying not to look at anything so that I would later be surprised by what I saw when I came through the second time to actually see it.

Back to the beginning! There was art. There were very long explanations in teeny tiny writing that we took pictures of to later read. Those pictures are still lingering on my to-read list. In addition to reading, there was watching. Like the Van Gogh exhibit, there was a room of animation. This room was small (a little too small to see what was going on the whole time) and it came with warnings about flashing lights. It was pretty cool, though, because it was as if we were in a subway car and got to travel throughout the world and fast forward through time. The rooms afterwards each had a theme and many included art with a quirky slant. My favorite collection is all about Disney called Dismaland. As a former cast member, I thoroughly approve of every single idea that comes across in Dismaland. Y’all don’t know the half of it.

Phone booths are fun.

Also, a lot of the work tugs at humanity’s collective conscience. War is bad. How people treat other people is bad. People are awful. And also, there’s hope. That’s the gist of the messages. On top of that, there was a small section about CCTV. We turned a corner and, oh, hello, we were on screen. I wish I could say this is the first time I was caught off-guard in an exhibit by realizing we’re being watched and recorded all the time, but it was not. (Let’s remember the Whitney).

After the exhibit, B and I walked aimlessly, winding up really far downtown. She suggested heading to Washington Square Park. That park was alive! Every fourth table was selling some sort of marijuana. In between were artists and musicians. There was a poet offering to write a poem or sell you a penis-shaped candle. (This could be my new endeavor depending on how lucrative this kind of waxing poetic is, and someone should really revoke my writing privileges after that pun).

Then out on the sidewalks, more graffiti, the uplifting kind. I love this city.

Bourgeois, Freud, and Many Menorahs

My affinity for Louise Bourgeois began fifteen or sixteen years ago when I saw some pieces at a museum. I can’t remember which museum or which pieces but I they inspired me to write a poem that appears in For The Girls, I called “Femme Maison.” Actually, now that I think of it, that was probably the name of the exhibit or the piece. Here’s the poem:

Femme Maison
-For Louise Bourgeios

The woman is a house with real glass, real eaves wood for burning when she breaks down and is condemned, useful after death long after destruction, beautiful dastardly distraction.

Also, a quote from this poem appears on my homepage. I guess it’s one of those poems by me that I enjoy. If you also enjoy this poem, you can buy the chapbook from dancing girl press. Support your independent presses, y’all.

I haven’t been to the Jewish Museum since seeing the exhibit that was partially about The Twilight Zone. I went on a Saturday and used the sabbath elevator. I can’t remember artists, but I remember elevators. They had a Bourgeois exhibit called Freud’s Daughter. I didn’t know about the connection, which sounded interesting, but more importantly, I wanted to go to a museum and see a artist I knew I’d enjoy. When BMc asked about museum going, I was like, the only museum I’m going to right now is the Jewish Museum if you want to come with, so he came with.

And by come with, I mean, he got to the museum by driving and parking nearby and I got there by train and subway. I rode the subway by myself for the first time since 2019, and I didn’t get murdered, so my subway days are back! I also walked up a very large hill, and it felt good to walk up that large hill. I even used my mnemonic device to figure out which way to go—1, 2, 3 Little Piggies Make 5.

Sidenote: During the days of Shecky’s, Rooftops, and other drunken endeavors, D taught us this mantra so we could remember 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Lexington, Park, Madison, 5th. It works when you remember the saying. The first time I tried it out, I couldn’t remember the whole thing, and I simply shouted Pigs! Something about pigs! on the street corner in Manhattan. No one flinched. It was most likely not the strangest thing they’d seen that day.

So I got to the museum to find BMc waiting outside. The rules were pretty clear. Get there on time. If you miss the time slot, you’ve gotta wait for the next time slot if it’s open. Bring your vax proof. Bring your ID. Show your tix. I don’t know why the rules were so strict since when we got there, no one was staggered. Everyone was in a line and in the same place. It was the first time I used my Excelsior Pass, so the download wasn’t a waste. Ironically, there were signs everywhere about keeping your distance. I’m not saying it was unsafe. I didn’t feel like it was crowded at all. I just think that the rigidity of the rules wasn’t as rigid as, let’s say, November 2020 Trader Joe’s six foot apart outdoor in the snow line to go grocery shopping.

The first thing I learned at the exhibit was that Bourgeois wrote a lot. This was a side of her I hadn’t known. Some things she wrote in English, some in French, and some drifted between the two. Some of it was coherent. Some of it was iffy. The next thing I learned was about her mental anguish. Her use of language, and her distrust of language, made more sense considering her afflictions. The writing fascinated me, thrilled me, made me want to write then and there.

The visual pieces ranged between large and small, 2D and 3D, expected and wtf. Room after room, walls and floors filled with sculptures, paintings, drawings, and transcriptions of her words along with actual handwritten pieces. My favorite artwork is her metalwork, kind of because it seems to be an undertaking that requires physical strength, though I’m sure a lot of artwork does.

Then there was the cell. A room had a cage that had alcoves where you could walk into and kind of be in the art. Inside the cages were chairs and mirrors. It was eerie and not okay and also pretty neat.

After getting our brains bent by Bourgeois (by the way, I have not spelled her name correctly on the first try at all yet), we saw the exhibits on the other floors. One floor was Afterlives, an exhibit that showed looted artwork. The story behind some of the pieces dives into heroics in history and how people put their lives on the line to save culture. Of course, it was also really sobering—how many innocent people killed because of their beliefs. That all gave me a shudder.

Then there was the permanent collection. A sculpture that reads OY, but also reads YO. Rooms and rooms of menorahs. Like, a lot of menorahs. Different metals. Different textures. One make of tiny chairs. Another made to hold more candles than you would think to put in a menorah. It made me want to own a menorah, but since I’m not into cultural appropriation for the sake of hijinks, I got over wanting to own a fun menorah. There were also some portraits by Andy Warhol and Alex Katz that were in my wheelhouse of enjoyment. Another wall of portraits by Abshalom Jac Lahav were also pretty neat. Basically, if you haven’t been to the Jewish Museum, these are the kinds of things you’ll see there no matter when you go because they’re part of the collection.

While dining is closed in the basement, that’s where bathrooms are, so, you know, that’s where we headed. And that’s where I found my new wallpaper. I want my entire house covered in it.

After museum-ing, we hit the park across the street. We were right across from the reservoir, so we walked around it while other people ran and others ambled very slowly. We saw ducks. The view from the far side of the reservoir is an interesting take on the skyline since mostly I see the view from the near side because it’s the same way the roof of The Met faces.

I’d like to report that while I did accept a ride back to the island in lieu of the train, I remembered I’d taken the train to get to the city, so I did not have to call my mom to take me to the train station to get my forgotten car. I? Am a grown up now.

Outdoorsy Part XXV: What Water Is This?

You’d think by now I could easily catch on to what nature is where, but the winding roads of the North Shore clearly don’t want me to. I’m pretty sure they were designed to keep out non-inhabitants. Counting on my GPS, I curved along the backroads until I saw a figure in the distance. There on Boney Lane was the captain, waving me into the David Weld Sanctuary as if he were on a tarmac guiding in a plane for landing. It was helpful because as soon as I’d made the turn onto the road, my GPS proudly yelled, Arrived! and I had not arrived anywhere except on a road somewhere.

When I parked, the captain was like, You put in the wrong address so I was waiting for you. I was like, No, I clicked the link you texted me and that’s what the map did. Apparently, Boney Lane and Short Beach Road are the same but also different according to my phone. As if I could possibly put in a different address on my own. Like, 345 Curvy Lane, BackRoads, Long Island.

There was much need for sunscreen and bug spray. I doused myself in both as I also tried to not let bugs get into my car. One did but I’m pretty sure it’s now flown out. A wasp almost got in, and thankfully it didn’t because then I’d have to abandon my car at 345 Curvy Lane and hitchhike back to civilization.

Into the preserve we went. It was really green. Not very buggy, thankfully. This was the first hike for my new hiking boots, and grassy woodsy-ness was a good way to break them in. We went down a few paths and then suddenly, we were on a bluff overlooking the water. He was like, Want to go down to the beach? I was like, Is that really a question?

Through the woods we found the beach. What water was this? I didn’t know. It was the Sound. I looked out in the distance. To the left stood smokestacks. I pointed: Northport? He was like, Yup. I was like, That’s your response?!—I know geography for once and all I get is a Yup?! He was subtly impressed.

We walked the beach. Another good way to break in my new boots with soft land underfoot. Also a good way to break a sweat. We’d gotten off to a later start than usual because I’d taught yoga in the morning, so by now the sun was blazing. Super pretty and also super hot. I’d opted for shorts since I knew we’d be mostly on the beach and he’d said the trails were pretty wide. Except for a few places in the path where I passed through as if I were in Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks to avoid ticks, it felt tick-less most of the way.

This was Short Beach, but it was pretty long for a short beach. We passed by what looked like cabanas. Lined up with them out on the water was a floating platform. On that platform, batbirds perched, all batty and birdy. I walked a bit more quickly to pass them. Then we got to where sunbathers sprawled out. We passed them and got to a point where the beach curved around and we could see the other side. I was like, I know where that is! On the other side is the place we’ve hiked before attached to the Greenbelt Trail where Sunken Meadow and Nissequogue meet up (I think. I mean, I knew where I was but that doesn’t mean I know names of things). This was the second time I knew geography. However—what water is this? Is this the river or is this the sound or is this something else? It was the river.

Basically, all the water is the water, and we just call it different things whenever we want. It’s all connected. {However, this morning, an inanimate object DMd me to tell me I don’t know what a beach is, so ya know, don’t go by me).

We hiked more along the river side of the beach and then cut across and around some more until we found a place where the captain said was good for swimming. I was like, Sure, go ahead and I’ll stay alive on the shore. I had on half a bathing suit, and if he’d swam longer, I would’ve gotten into the full thing, but for a ten-minute swim with bugs attacking me, I didn’t do the production of switching my bottoms under a dress I’d brought. The taking off of the boots and socks was a production in and of itself.

Then there was the production of getting it all back on. Then there was the debate of reapplying sunscreen. It was not possible for me. I was slick with sweat. My sunscreen is on the expensive side. There was no point in wasting it; it wasn’t going to stay on my skin with all the moisture pouring off me. I know—this is so attractive. I could go on about what I possibly smelled like at this point, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

As we started to head back, a swarm of bugs kept biting me. Only me. We stopped on the beach—I think on the sound side not the river side—and I switched from the natural bug spray to the intense chemical stuff. It worked. I’m okay with chemicals if I’m not being eaten alive by no-see-ums.

When we arrived at the bathrooms at Short Beach, I was like, Can we go in the shade? We walked towards the covered picnic tables, and I sat and took in the not being in the sun for a while. There was a breeze! That’s when we remembered the captain wanted to take a picture of what was in my backpack. He was like, Did you take less stuff this time? I was like, I actually have more than last time because of beach options. The one thing I didn’t have was my solar powered charger/flashlight/compass because it adds another few pounds and I simply couldn’t add more, and on a shorter excursion, I banked on not needing it.

After that, we headed back to the beach, back up into the woods, back up to the bluff, and then back through the preserve to find the tiny buggy parking lot. It holds six cars. Six. That’s probably enough considering it’s almost impossible to find if you’re not familiar with Curvy Lane in BackRoads, LI.

Here We Van Gogh Again

Upon finding out that there are two Van Gogh exhibits, I was like, Yep, I can go to the other one to compare. Upon finding out that the Van Gogh exhibit at the pier offers yoga classes, I was like, Hey BR, we’re going, and she was like, Yes, of course we are.

And so, a 6:15 AM train got me to Penn at 6:47 AM, which got me a taxi that arrived at Pier 36 a bit after 7 AM. My yoga friend was already there, and the night security guard had let her in to hang out at the front. He was super nice, explaining he gets excited when he sees people, and also we saw how the large portrait of Van Gogh could be stunning but also creepy if it were the only eyes on you in the wee hours in the dark.

Because we got there so early, we were first in line and first let into the rooms. We walked through the first two rooms and got into the bigger room where the animations of Van Gogh’s art goes across the floor as well as on all the walls. We set up, sat down, and basically stared. We were inside a painting.

The instructor, Dasha from Sputnik Yoga, started talking about what her yoga studio offers and how she teamed up with Lifeway for this sponsorship. Right away, we looooooved her—her energy was perfect. As people started piling in and lining up (we were all masked and the room was large), she found that a lot were new to yoga completely. She asked if any instructors in the room would demo. I didn’t even think. My hand was up. Well, look at that. She came over and I was like, I don’t do inversions. She laughed and was like, You don’t need to worry about that.

Then the magic unfolded. The music started up. The animations ran around the room. We moved through a yoga sequence in rhythm with both. Magic. Magic. Magic. I demoed each pose without knowing what was coming next, so it was a little clumsy at times, but also, sometimes it was clear where we were going though not at all static or dull. All those years of practice have paid off! When we got to balance, it was a little shaky because the walls were basically moving, but no one fell, so that’s a plus for everyone in the room. The most advanced pose was a half moon, which I rarely do, so it was an adventure. Savasana was the best savasana because, again, magical.

When we were done, B and I got to see all the photos from the session as the instructor airdropped them to me. Whoa. Basically, you’ve gotta do it for yourself because I can’t explain the energy. I could live on that energy. The exhibit played the entire animation again, and we all had free reign to go through all three rooms to watch from wherever we wished and to do more yoga if we wanted. We then headed into the absinthe lounge and had hot beverages, where I told B that was all I ever want to do—yoga and romping around the city. We romped around the gift shop for a while, and we found a tree that had a way for you to write a letter to Vincent and have him write you back (again, hard to explain, so do it for yourself).

Speaking of romping, she was like, do you want to go to the Met? I was like, yes, let’s do it. We headed outside where I acted like I’d never seen a bridge before because the view was simply striking. We grabbed a cab outside and headed all the way up. We found a place for food because I almost keeled over from malnutrition and ate beside the fountains outside. Then we had to reserve a time to go inside to then get tickets. We got tickets inside because we were paying by donation, and then we went off without a map. Careening around the museum without a map and without a plan was fun and a workout.

The only plan I had was to see the rooftop and to find a bathroom. We found the bathroom first, and then we got sidetracked by every pretty thing we could find. At one point B was like, This is kind of like going to Epcot. So true! We were in Greece and Rome and Egypt and other places across history and the globe.

Mostly I enjoyed the modern floor, especially the abstract stuff (that’s a technical art term) and the photography exhibit with a focus on women. The rooftop offers artwork as well as the best views from above. We took it all in, thankful for a semi-overcast day that allowed for gorgeous sunshine without that extreme sticky heat. As we headed out of the museum, I was like, You know, I didn’t take a picture of a statue butt (which is something I always do at museums because I’m 12). B was like, well there’s one right over there. I appreciated the support.

For days that start with art and yoga and end with art and sky and all throughout offer fun friend times, I am always grateful.

Mark & Harriet & Clark & Us: Sibling Adventures

My brother has a knack for gardening, and I have a knack for letting plants die, and we found ourselves among flowers and history several times this summer so far.

Clark Botanic Gardens is small, yet easy to get lost in. Several times my brother mentioned how the map is not to scale. I did look at the map quite a bit, thinking maybe this would be the day I could understand spatial relationships, and then I gave up when I noticed something gross on my hand and used the map to wipe it off while doing what any normal adult would do—shouting, Ewww, grosssss, get it offffff.

Also gross was a dead bird we found on a pathway that my brother thought had been killed in a sacrificial ritual because it looked like it had no head. I suggested that animals could have eaten it, and he suggested that animals would not be so precise. Neither one of us got a real good look at it, so let’s call this debate a draw.

Other than gross, the gardens were pretty. There was an apiary (but I didn’t see any honey for purchase, which was a bummer). There was a gazebo. Then paths wound around paths, and we saw art and flowers. A man with a camera and a large beard who referred to himself as Santa Claus ran into us several times, and each time he pointed out the turtles. One time he shouted at us across a pond about the turtles. Sure enough, there were turtles we would have missed otherwise. We also saw a rabbit and monarch butterflies. We started to see the same plants over and again, we realized we made our way around several times, just in different ways. There was also art, and we all know how I love public art.

You know where else there are gardens? Connecticut. We drove out to the Mark Twain House where there is also the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, and Stowe kept pristine gardens.

Let’s take a side note here about how I have misconceptions about history while my brother is a history teacher. You may all recall the There Are Two Hoovers incident, which garnered a full on facepalm. This time around, I kind of eased my way into the misconception: I know that Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe are two people, but sometimes I think of Harriet Tubman when I hear Uncle Tom’s Cabin, even though Stowe wrote it, and also, Stowe was a white lady, and sometimes in my mind (like always up until I saw the Stowe house) she’s black.

Perhaps my brother is now beyond facepalming at my historical inaccuracies because there was no shout or self-flagellation that occurred. A bit of a head shake. Perhaps because I was already shaking my head in my own shame already.

Anyway, we started with Twain. There’s a building that serves as a museum to show a Ken Burns film and a panel exhibit of Twain. Something I re-learned: Samuel Clemens named himself after a nautical measurement. Something I learned for the first time: Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was terrible at inventing things. He tried a printing press and a memory game among other things, and they were both not good and sent him into debt. It’s a good thing the world loved him because he went on a talking tour to earn money to support his family.

His house is large. He had several children, but still, large. It’s also very ornate, each room with wood carvings and stenciled wallpaper. He had fancy fireplaces installed throughout the house, too. He clearly built the house he dreamed of owning when he’d had very little growing up.

The tour guide knew a lot. We heard so many dates and facts. When someone asked a question, she always had an answer. That means, on top of knowing the script for the tour, she has additional knowledge rolling around in her Twain synapses. It’s impressive. It’s one thing to memorize a script, but to be able to also offer answers to questions you don’t know are coming is super neat.

Once we got back to the museum part, we finished watching the Ken Burns film we’d seen only part of and then headed to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House across the yard. It’s literally a few feet away. Once that tour started, we quickly learned that the Stowe family lived there first. Twain build that monstrous house in her backyard. They were all friendly, so it wasn’t a big deal, but still—that massive thing going up behind such a regular-sized house had to be a bit of a headache at times. Stowe was happy to have this smaller house; she, too, at one time had a massive house and decided it was too much.

Her house has many of her own paintings. It also has plants. It also has her paintings of plants. She was really talented. During this tour, a family of four joined us, and one of the daughters had completed a school project on Stowe, so she knew a bunch of stuff. The tour guide was very attentive towards her because of this, which was nice because it made the tour simple and a bit slower than that face-paced-facts-in-yo-face of Twain. Something I re-learned is that Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Something I learned for the first time—well, we already know but I’ll say it again—Stowe was a white lady.

Another side note: I mentioned this to my mom, and she said, You know what? I think I thought she was black, too. So there. We’re all not on top of our history at all times. Why do so many women have to be named Harriet? And by so many, I mean two. These two in particular. It’s very confusing.

One room that makes you go, Oh my, is the one with all the memorabilia about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While the book was meant to rail against slavery and racism, it inspired plays and movies and adaptations and toys and knickknacks that were very racist. It reminded me of when we went to a museum that had a sign that there would be racist images in a particular exhibit, and we were like halfway through and were like, there’s no racist stuff her, and then we turned a corner and saw a huge propaganda poster that used the word Jappy, and we were like, oh, yes, there it is. What we’re learning is that a lot of history is racist. And also, the Hoover incident occurred during the same adventure.

At the end of this tour, we went into the small museum gift shop and wrote a note on a community paper about the experience. I wrote that it was inspiring. Stowe lived a long life of writing and art, so of course, that’s inspiring. Also inspiring are her gardens. The flowers are so vibrant, and they made me almost want to plant some of my own. Almost, but not quite. I’ll leave the pretty plants to my brother.

Poetry and Cannonballs

The best part of NYC Poetry Festival is its location. After years of wanting to go and not understanding boats, I finally got myself on a train to take a taxi to catch a ferry to go to Governors Island. What I thought was going to be a day of simply listening to poetry turned out to be an exploration of NY history along with booths upon booths of swag and conversation.

Before anything poetry, BMc and I met up and wandered into forts called castles and forts called forts. We were able to pick up heavy things that weren’t as heavy as cannonballs. I don’t know the point of this activity, but we did it. We also found something called a playground that seemed to be a way to lure children into getting tetanus or an art installation or both. Then a park ranger told us we could walk up a cobblestone path behind some of the buildings where the boat people reside (don’t ask—I don’t know, either) and find some cannons. We walked up the path and found some cannons! Each cannon had a sign that said not to climb on them, so immediately I wanted to climb on them, but I didn’t because it was early in the day and getting kicked off the island before the poetry wasn’t a good plan.

My two main concerns aside from boats were bathrooms and food. Actually, these are my concerns for life: boats, bathrooms, and food. I’m happy to report there’s a bathroom as soon as you disembark in the building that has the art gallery. There are also bathrooms that are trailers with stalls and not singular portapotties. I’m also happy to report that food trucks is where it’s at. I have issues ordering from counters, and luckily, I found a truck that was more of a cart and I could order at eye level. The salad I got was heavenly. I also purchased a cup of water for $2, but there were two limes in it, making the purchase worth it.

The poetry was a great plan. I listened to a group called Camperdown whose readings I’ve gone to online. I also listened to a chunk of the Red Wheelbarrow Poets, a group BMc is associated with. I heard a bunch more in the background because there were three stages of poetry all day plus an open mic. Not on a stage was a fun performance at the Walt Whitman Initiative table, which was my favorite poetry of the day because it was more than being at a mic but it was poetry in yo face.  

That’s also where I met in person for the first time someone I’ve known online through Walt Whitman Birthplace Association since I’ve been working with them. It makes sense that I’d meet him at a Walt Whitman booth, but to meet in a place that requires three methods of transportation is kind of funny. Then again, that seems very Whitmanian.

I also listened to Terrance Hayes and some of Deborah Landau, the two headliners for Sunday. That was the only time I felt like the entire festival quieted down.

The booths I hit up for some fun writing chatter:

The National Association for Poetry Therapy – this is a real thing and it makes me happy.

Nine Cloud Journal and the Queens Poets – I ran into a few poets I know from Queens, met some new poets from Queens, and bought some Queens poetry.

Sarah Lawrence College – I got professorial for a bit. They have a speculative writing track, and I’m all about that.

Squidbath – Old photos plus typewriter quotes plus stitching equals magic, and I have a piece hanging on my wall in front of me as I type this.

I also ran into Sarah Kain Gutowski whose name I recognized and we had one of those conversations trying to place each other’s names and faces. She had a booth that showcased a poetry and visual art project she’s been working on, which was stellar. Then we both remembered that I’d read for her students a few years back, and that conversation turned a bit towards how Fall 2021 is going to be as nutty as this past academic year has been.

Then I found the table for the Poetry Brothel and wanted to purchase one of everything. I found my necklace by Madame Tallulah and wore it for the rest of the day.

I also bought a tiny book by Michele Rosenthal called Smaller Than Life because it made my heart happy.

My most favorite activity of the day was the Poetry Labyrinth. You take a rock with a word on it. You walk around the brick labyrinth. You sit down. You write a poem. You can keep the rock or put it back. You can keep the poem or hang it up. I want this in my backyard. If I weren’t spatially challenged, I could probably make one.

The other most favorite part were the views. Like, I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty before, but from this island, it’s brand new. I’ve sailed on the Sea Streak into the port at sunset, but it looks surreal once more from this angle. The city is enchanting with all its history and all its words.

Then I got really excited when BMc offered to drive me home, so excited that I forgotten I parked my car at the train station that morning and then couldn’t figure out where my car was until after I got into my jammies and put on my acne medication that looks like clay and then called my mom to see if she could take me to get my car and I’m 42 and you’re welcome.

Go Van Gogh Go

A family friend gifted my little fam tickets to see the Van Gogh Exhibit. The tickets were for a Saturday morning. My mom hadn’t been in the city since the end of 2019, which is super weird because she’s a city girl. Here was the perfect opportunity to jump back in.

With luggage for one night, we headed in by train. My instincts to make sure she enjoyed herself consisted of my scolding my mom to not suddenly stop in the middle where people were walking and to not walk near gates that could make her fall over. I’m a bag of fun. She didn’t mind, however, because she did not fall and did not get crushed by the crowd due to my instructions.

The hotel was fine in the way that pandemic hotels are fine. They had no amenities, but the bellhop gave us water when we entered. He was the only person I liked at the hotel. He got a tip. Everyone else pretty much was not up to usual hotel-friendliness. When we got to the room, my mom decided to take a break for a while, and I decided to go outside for a while.

I had no plan. I was in the middle of the city and didn’t know what to do. As we all know, public art is my jam, so I headed over to City Hall Park. There was public art! I made my way around and through the park, taking in the public art, giddy and gleeful to be looking at the art that was public. See? I am a bag of fun!

The Brooklyn Bridge kept showing up at every turn, so I was like, Hmm, maybe I’ll check out that bridge. First, I got a tea from Starbucks because I was thirsty and had nothing to drink because I’d had no plan. Starbucks was super loud, and I’d ordered with a mask on, and I wound up getting the wrong tea. I sipped it anyway because I was thirsty and needed to be hydrated for this walk I was now taking across the bridge. Yes, that’s right, I got to the bridge and kept walking, and now I was in it.

That’s when the overcast day turned to the sunniest day in split second. My wrong flavor hot tea was probably not the greatest way to hydrate, and I had no sunscreen on, and I was holding my elbows out to try to catch a breeze without sweating. People walked by, ran by, whipped by on bikes and other wheeled things. Everyone was alive, and I was once again smiling at everything as if I’d never been outside before.

I thought back to about a decade ago. It may have been 11 years instead of 10. It was the first time I’d walked across the bridge, starting at the Brooklyn side that time. Along The Shore was a Landmark Fellowship for community college instructors to explore Brooklyn—it’s history, architecture, geography, climate, environment, food, literature, and culture. I met wonderful people and learned so much.

Here I was again, crossing Brooklyn Bridge, thinking of the fellowship folks, thinking about my dad, thinking about Whitman. Then I started thinking about how much I was sweating—no shock there—and how some people make dumb decisions like standing on the edge of girder to get a good photo.

After heading back to the hotel and grabbing my mom, we went off to find food. The Oculus was right across the street, so in we went. Then the elevators weren’t working, so she shimmied up and down steps like a pro while I hovered around taking up too much space so that no one could bowl her over. Hangry in the Oculus is not a way to be in the Oculus—we couldn’t find any food (by the way, they list Sugarfina as a place to eat—how about no). We got out of the Oculus with her shimmying up and down steps again (how can elevators be out of service in a place that is all levels?) and found a nice deli that had good food and no stairs.

Fulfilled, we walked to the 9/11 Museum grounds to see a tree that was now roped off and a glade that was also now roped off. At least we could see it from a distance. Then it was time to rest up for our upcoming art adventure.

Then next day was all about Van Gogh. We checked out with the unhappy hotel person at the main desk and asked the very nice bellhop to hold our bags for us. Then we headed down to Vesey, which is right on the water, which is windy. Once again, the morning was overcast, and I’d packed only shorts and a tank top. There I was downtown with the wind whipping around as we waited for my brother to arrive. When he did, he pointed at an inclined park that was a few feet across from where we were standing and told us it was the Irish hunger memorial something or other. This is something only he would know.

Without our asking, the guy at the door said he was going to call an elevator for us. This is good service (Oculus, take note). We walked around the building, got escorted to and up the elevator, and then through half the exhibit to the beginning. We were checked in and we stood there, staring at a wall of flowers and Van Gogh’s very large head. We’d made it!

The first part exhibited a timeline of his life. A short film played. Music played. Some of the artwork was created floor to ceiling—like a large 3D vase that had images of his different flower paintings morphing across it through projection. Some of the artwork was deconstructed in 3D and set up to show layers. All of this is difficult to describe and very worth seeing in person.

We then walked around to find the room of wall to wall, floor to ceiling animations. The minute I walked in was the minute projections of candles whipped across the floor, making my vertigo say hello. Meanwhile, my mom was caning her way across the carpet. We both stopped and started laughing because neither one of us was about to fall in public. The security guard pointed me to some chairs for my mom. I thanked him. She found a bench because the chairs were too low. He came back over, concerned that the bench wasn’t comfy. This is good service (hotel staff, take note). I found a chair. Then my brother wandered in, having already seen some of it. He was like, I was in the other room. I was like, what room. He was like, the drawing room. I was like, Say what now? He was like, the room you draw in. I was like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. He was like, there’s a whole other room where you color. I was like, I’m totally coloring after I watch this.

I’m not sure how long the animation is from beginning to end. It’s mesmerizing. We watched the whole thing, and I know this because it actually ends with the candles that made me dizzy from when we walked in. We waited for the candles to stop before getting together again and following my brother into this other room.

We could color in a completed outline of a painting, color in and finish a partial painting, or create our own picture on a blank page. We each chose a partial or color-in painting. We sat. We colored. We finished and my brother proclaimed, Mine is the best. He was not joking.

Then we took it over to be projected onto the wall where it showed up as framed artwork in a gallery. Then we got sticky stuff and pasted them to a different wall. And now we’re famous artists with work hanging in NYC.

PS I compared experiences with one of my yoga clients. They were drastically different. That’s because there are two different Van Gogh exhibits.

When we came out of the exhibit, I saw more public art!

AND while walking across the bridge, I FOUND MY VALET TICKET!!!