Outdoorsy Part V: Many Parks Are One Park

Post Tropical Storm Isaias on another rainy morning, Capt. and I decided it was a good day to go hiking again. The plan was Blydenburgh, which seems to be the middle of the Greenbelt. I got there and found it closed. I remembered that I had the Parks By Me app, so I searched and found Caleb Smith was nearby. We met there at the locked gates. Another park down. Capt. was like, “You wanna go to Nissequogue? I know it’s open.” And that’s how we decided to take a hike along the mighty Nissequogue and whatever else we could find that was open.

Because there’d been storms, getting there proved to be a puzzle. Trees were still down everywhere. Fortunately, the park was open and the rain was letting up. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of construction going on, and the only bathroom was a portapotty. My need to pee outweighed my aversion to moveable toilet rooms, so I held my breath, whined a lot, and succeeded in not giving myself a UTI. Then we were off! (Yes, I practically bathed in hand sanitizer).

Because there’d been storms, I was on high alert for tree branches coming down. Capt. was like, “They cleared the paths.” I was like, “There can still be falling branches.” Here’s how that works: Tall trees have lots of branches, and if a high branch falls, it could land on the lower branches, and then it teeters until an unsuspecting little lady walks under it, and then blam! Lady down.

That scenario did not play out thankfully. Instead, our hike took us to the beach.

ONCE MORE WITH FEELING: WE WERE IN THE WOODS AND THEN WE WERE AT THE BEACH!!! Gotta love Long Island.

The first thing I saw as we made our way to the river shore was an army of hermit crabs scurrying from the water into the high grass. [Note: I learned after posting a short clip in my Instagram story that they were fiddler crabs, not hermit crabs, and that I might enjoy a field trip with Professor Zito when he looks at marine life. Instagram is a wealth of information. P. S. I do not know who Professor Zito is.] I told the crabs they didn’t have to run away, but they did not listen to me. Then I pointed out to the captain that we were near water and rocks.

Here’s the third installment of Christina Skips Rocks.

Capt. handed me a rock. He was like, “I guess I’ll go first so you can see how low I get to the water.”

I was like, “My entire life is low to the water, Captain.”

Fair point.

He skipped a rock, and it jumped twice and sank. I threw a rock, and it kerplunked. Round 1: Unsuccessful.

He skipped a rock, and it jumped twice and sank. I threw a rock, and it jumped once and sank.

Let me say that again: I skipped a friggin rock!!!!!!!!! I did it!!!!!!!!

The two of us kind of stared at each other for a moment. Then he congratulated me, and I did a happy dance. Then I was like, “You know I can never skip a rock again, right? Like, I did it, and now that’s it for me.” I was like this when my brother and I won music trivia as Sip This. The host was like, “You have to keep coming,” and I was like, “Nope, we’re going out on a high note.” We kept going to trivia. I did win another time. So here on the beach, I decided to give it another go.

Let’s say that Round 3 proved unsuccessful.

From the beach, we went to the bluff. We stopped for snacking and watched the fishermen. Along with the fishermen were four young boys doing what young boys do. At one point, three of them were right near me waving around a detached fish head. I pulled my mask tighter around my face; forget germs–fish heads smell. From below on the pier came “Boys, get down here!” and then, “Sorry, you can yell at them.” The guy in charge of the boys wrangled them back and then continued to scold them every few moments for the next few minutes until they decided to calm down and fish again.

From the bluff, we went to the woods. From the woods, we went to the beach. From the beach, we went to the bluff. And then somehow we wound up back on the path where the crabs were. I have no idea how we did it, which is why I don’t hike on my own. Since we were on the beach again, we gave rock skipping another go. I skipped another one! We ended on a high note.

On the other side of the park is the closed down mental institution that is now a park. We walked that, looking at the abandoned buildings and taking in more downed trees. Because I didn’t think I could face another portapotty moment, we walked to the library and used their bathroom. Their song of choice for hand washing is “Over the Rainbow,” and the sign says to sing it twice. I wasn’t even through the first few lines when I knew I’d already hit twenty seconds, so either they don’t know the tempo of Judy Garland’s melodious tune, or they are aiming for a super long hand washing session. Outside, we passed a garden, and I snapped a butterfly landing and leaving. I also made a new friend.

Then we saw a dinosaur. On the way back through the mental institution grounds, I thought I was seeing things at first. I saw what looked like a T-Rex bobbing its head around. Finally, after squinting and doing my best to decipher what was happening, I said to the captain, “Hey, what do you see up ahead?” And he was like, “That’s a dinosaur.” If this had been one of those heat wave days, I would have chalked it up to hallucinating, but the two of us were both hydrated and well. We were indeed seeing a dinosaur.

I’ve been manifesting things lately. My energy and the world’s energy is totally in sync. Case in point: on one of my walks, I was mentally composing a text message to someone I hadn’t seen in a while. A few moments later, she appeared on the path walking towards me. Yeah, I know. Trippy, right?

So a little bit before the dinosaur sighting, Capt. and I were talking about Old Bethpage Village. I was like, “Adults in costume sometimes make me uncomfortable.” Then I described the hierarchy of discomfort. The most egregious are the characters with the big heads that don’t say anything (Mickey Mouse at Disney; the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup at Hershey Park). Under that are people in costume who never break character, not even for a second (the knights at Medieval Times; colonials in every colonial village).

Now here I’d gone and done it again. I’d manifested myself a dinosaur. Had I been alone, I would’ve backtracked and circumnavigated the park back. And I would’ve gotten lost doing so, and it would have been worth not being near the dino. Since Capt. was there, I didn’t think he’d want to take the trip, so we gave the dino a wide berth as we passed by.

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Then we debated a bit about the kayak plan. I have this plan that I want to sit in a kayak on land before the summer ends. There’s a long explanation behind this desire that I can explain another time. We saw below us at the water people near some kayaks. The launch where we were was roped off, so to get to the guy, we’d have to drive somewhere. I was like, “That’s too much kayak effort.” So Capt. decided to let it go for now. However, he’s been kayaking, and he may be able to hook a gal up with one. On land. With a life vest. Because as much as this gal is learning to love nature, this gal is also still highly aware of all the dangers that are the reason it’s taken so long to get out in nature. I like being alive. I plan to keep it that way for a while longer. Which is why I wore appropriate attire to ward off slipping and lyme disease. I even put on a hat.

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Oh, also, happy birthday, capt.

Art, Books, Friends, Go

Remember when I was inside a museum? Guess what. I was inside another museum! Art and writing have always coincided for me, so getting back into the groove of visiting museums and galleries is getting my writing brain back into gear. All art one art.

BG and I met at the Heckscher Museum of Art. We’d reserved our slots in advance. Also important to know: admittance was free! They took our temperature and opened the door for us to go inside. Then we saw the art. Most of the museum was artwork by local students. When I started commenting like, “This is eleventh grade” and “This is twelfth grade,” BG didn’t realize I was reading the descriptions. Then he was like, “Oh! Like these are literally students!” I was like, “Yeah, I wasn’t being judgey about their abilities.” We both agreed that these students are super talented. Also, their artist statements sound like they have been making art for the past two decades.

We were allotted 45 minutes to take in the entire museum, which is plenty of time for a museum of that size. I think we actually spent an hour inside anyway. There weren’t a lot of people, though the two of us managed to create a crowd as we got enveloped in conversation and someone on staff had to remind us to stay away from other people. We were acting like there was nothing wrong in the world even though we had masks on and had had our temperature taken.

Sidenote: I call this the abnormal. It’s not the new normal. There’s nothing normal about having to wear a mask in public and not be able to jostle your way to the artwork when someone tall is taking too long and refuses to move.

Sidenote to the sidenote: I didn’t jostle anyone. We simply got too close. However, in normal times, I may jostle a few people.

Sidenote to the sidenote to the sidenote: Jostle is a fun word to say. Go ahead and say it out loud. I’ll wait. Okay, done? Wasn’t that fun?

After the museum, it was gallery time. We headed over to B. J. Spoke Gallery, a haunt for us when we go to poetry readings. This time, it was all for the art. One of the newer artists is a collagist, and so is BG, so we dug her work a lot. The artist behind the desk told us about her own artwork when we commented on her photograph. She was like, “I snuck into that guy’s backyard to take that shot.” It was well worth it–some rusted out trucks in a yard filled with vibrant green grass entitled Retired. Loved it.

Up next, all the books. Book Revue has all of them. However, BG was like, “Food?” I was like, “I brought some.” He was like, “Really?” I was like, “I don’t go anywhere without food.” I grabbed my food and met him outside Burgerology where we also met up with VS and stayed for hours with the danger of people who don’t know how to parallel park always at our backs and falling leaves from the trees above landing in our laps. Worth it. P. S. the staff there worked their asses off, and their bathroom was immaculate.

Up next, all the books, round 2. Back up to Book Revue. An hour of book browsing and asking, “Hey have you read…”, “If you like that one how about….”, and “Did you see the new….” We devoted a lot of time to boxes of books that were 1 for $3 and 5 for $10. I found a novel I’ve wanted to read that my library always says is on the shelf but isn’t. Then I found another book by a poet I’ve wanted to read. I grabbed a third book, another poetry collection, because I liked the cover and the shape of the poems inside. This is definitely how you should choose books, covers and shapes. VS combined ours into 5 and then BG created his own little haul.

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The sun had begun to set, and it felt like one of those summer nights when the world is normal and you’ve done all the things you could possibly have wanted to do. With the crosswalk voice urging us to to wait and then move, we found our way back to the glitter of the parking lot and headed home. Summer days. Summer nights. Art. Books. Friends. Perfection.

Outdoorsy Part IV: Caumsett As An Adult

Fifth grade meant an overnight field trip to Caumsett. Sixth grade meant an entire week of overnights to Ashokan. Bits and pieces roll around in my brain, both trips melding into one because they both concerned nature and both made me feel awkward. To be fair, everything made me feel awkward. To be fair, lots of things still do.

Here’s what I remember that I’m pretty sure is Caumsett.

  • Sitting in a big room with a fireplace, listening to a man in a thick off-white crocheted sweater who was holding a replica of a baby alligator
  • Being on the beach, watching the man, who had black curly locks to his shoulders, lick his finger and smear a rock, and then show how the rock became paint
  • Going outside in the dark, sitting on the grass, looking up at the stars as the man shone a super-powered flashlight up to point to each one as they made constellations–and then hearing the story of how the stars were made:
    • Something about a dark blanket being put over the earth, probably because humans were doing something terrible, or maybe the animals were being naughty. Then the birds flew up and tried to take it down, creating holes because their beaks weren’t strong enough to pull it. The holes allow light to come through. These are stars.
      • Recently, I wrote a poem trying to express this sentiment. I don’t think it comes across at all. I don’t think the poem has any birds in it.
  • Ticks. Grassy land has ticks. Let’s all be aware of the ticks. They can cause disease. If you see a tick, light a match, blow it out, put the tip to the tick, burn it, lather it in Vasoline, and then pluck it out with long tweezers.
    • This means that I’ve known about ticks since I was in fifth grade, so everyone can stop telling me about the ticks. They are the reason I haven’t ventured into nature all these years. (Okay, one of the many reasons).

Up until recently, I thought of Caumsett as a magical land, far far away, nestled in my childhood memories somewhere between coloring a Snoopy cartoon in kindergarten and receiving a dictionary on graduation night in the sixth grade. It was a place of wonder in nature far out there.

Then my brother brought up riding in Caumsett. I was like, What do you mean? He was like, I ride my bike there. I was like, What are you saying? He was like, You do know Caumsett is on Long Island, right? I was like,  ? ? ? ?  He was like, Caumsett is on Long Island; you can drive there. I. Was. Floored.

It’s taken a few years more, but I’ve found a hiking adventure buddy willing to put up with my tiptoeing into the land of tick-infested-tall-grasses and penchant for needing snacks and clear path to a bathroom wherever we go. I’m a fortunate gal.

Sidenote: I’m now incredibly aware that my first question to anyone whenever they ask me to go somewhere is, What about bathrooms? I have no idea when this new habit started, but I think it’s a pandemic thing. I drink a lot of water. I have already peed in one plastic container out in a park because there were no bathrooms. I’d do it again. However, I’d rather do it in a toilet, unless that toilet is the equivalent to the Trainspotting bathroom. P. S. The bathroom at Robert Moses comes pretty close to that one. Now this sidenote has taken a turn towards full tangent, so let’s get back to Caumsett, A Childhood Jaunt Turned Adult Realness.

We met at Caumsett after my GPS took me past it. Getting there proves to be an interesting venture because you get to a point north on Long Island until you need to go across this little two lane thingamajig out in the water. Then you wind around and there are mansion-like houses and then the park that the GPS doesn’t recognize. I found the bathroom. Best bathroom I’ve seen in any park hands down! (See? Bathroom Awareness is a thing). Then I handed the Captain the map and was like, This piece of paper means nothing to me.

By the way, I call him the Captain after one of his characters in a story he was working on. Also, he can kayak, so, he’s like a captain for real.

Sidenote that literally just popped into my head: When I was planning my wedding, we found a guy who was a captain with whom I became obsessed. I totally wanted to have the ceremony officiated by a captain. That captain was busy the day we planned to get married. Then that captain kept emailing us about how he might be able to work it out. He had two weddings planned that day already, but he for some reason became reverse- obsessed with us. We stopped answering his emails and settled on Judy. Judy was the best. And now I’m divorced. Not Judy’s fault. The End.

The captain took us into the walled garden and remarked at how the garden didn’t really have much color. Being the height of summer, I suggested that maybe there were more bloomy things happening in the spring.

Out of the garden, we walked past the horsefly dragonfly things that I literally gasped at. We found raspberries. Okay, he found raspberries. I was like, Those are raspberries!?!? I see them all the time! Can they be eaten? He was like, Yes, you can eat a raspberry. He plucked a red one, washed it off with his water, and ate it. I was astonished. It’s as if I were back in fifth grade seeing the magical land of Caumsett for the first time.

We found a building that was maybe called the garage house. It looked abandoned but some sort of unit was chugging along inside the first floor. I wanted to climb the steps to the top, but I thought better of it, figuring if any of those large bugs came at me, I’d fall to my death while trying to swat them. Capt decided to give it a shot, so afterwards, I did, too. I expected great views, but mostly, I could see only the other part of the building and lots of trees.

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We went around the building out to the back and Oh. Meee. Oh. Myyy. I grabbed my head, both hands on either side, stunned. The hill we were on was high and rolled down to a pond. Beyond that, the water went out way back to meet the sky. I couldn’t stop saying how pretty it was. Then from behind, I heard, You’re looking at Connecticut. An older man and a woman arrived behind us. I was like, Connecticut is beautiful!

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Then Capt and I walked down the hill. I stopped to look back. (I did not turn into a pillar of salt. That’s a joke for all you myth-joke-enthusiasts). Up on the hill, the house reached towards the sky behind it. I did a happy dance. Everything kept being pretty.

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Except the bugs. The dragon horse fly things that I’d panicked about before flew around the path by the pond. There were dozens of dozens. I repeated aloud many times, They aren’t real. They aren’t real. They aren’t real.

See? This is why I’ve always turned down offers to go hiking and camping. I know myself. For anyone who’s a nature person, like a real true camper hiker one with nature person, my behavior isn’t cute. It’s juvenile and annoying. I can’t help it. It’s my reaction to all things creepy and crawly. I don’t think these things will kill me, but I also don’t like them.

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There weren’t too many in the little path under the trees to the water, so we went there and watched some fish jump up through the surface and splash back down. There were birds. There were flies. Capt talked about the British. This is very similar to the conversations I have with my brother when we go on Sibling Adventures. He tells me the history of a place, and I respond with, I totally did not know that.

We walked the rest of the path down to the beach. [They aren’t real. They aren’t real.] Yet again, Long Island does its thing. We were in the woods. Then we’re at the beach. How does that even happen? It gets me every time.

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This beach has rocks because it’s the North Shore. That means it was time for the second installment of Christina Skips Rocks. Capt skipped a few, one leaping no less than five times before going under. I basically threw a rock into the water. Then he showed me how to hold it better. I held it differently and instead of kerplunking straight down, it went diagonally into the water, splashing straight to the bottom. He suggested I do a windup like a pitcher in baseball and then was like, Just throw it, like a ball. Explaining that when I throw things, they don’t go where I want them to, I threw a rock into the water as if I were throwing a ball. He was like, Yeah, so you do have the power to throw. That was never the question. I’m quite mighty. I simply have no skillz in aim.

I tried a few more times. I managed to throw a rock straight behind me onto the sand. Then I threw one in the opposite diagonal, which I have no idea how that happened because if my momentum is going left, how does the rock go right. Then I did another and it almost skimmed the water before drowning. The beach has many rocks. We could have stayed all day. Instead, I was like let’s do those little rock tower things.

The proper term is cairn. He’d never built one. I was surprised because he’s been on rocky shores all his life and can skip rocks. How could he never have built one? So we built them. Mine wobbled until I realized my bottom rock wasn’t built for foundation work. He built a mini-fort because he understands rocks.

In the shade, we took a break so I could eat a snack and we could both look at maps I’d bought from the Greenbelt hiker people. They are more maps with lines that I don’t quite understand. We also watched a few people arriving to enjoy the beach in beachy ways like tanning, picnicking, and swimming. One woman lay belly-down on a boulder in the water and made swimming motions with her arms and legs. This is my kind of swimming and next time, I’m going to suit up and dive in. Only I’m not going to do that because now I’m remembering there are animals in the water and so no thanks.

Capt was like, I think the path goes up there. I was like, there are people on the beach that way, so there must be a path there, too. He decided to follow my suggestion and keep walking on the beach. After a really really long walk and still not arriving to where the people were, I was like, You should know that when I make a suggestion that concerns anything about directions or spatial situations, you need to veto it. He was like, Good to know. We finally came out to some fisherman road that people drive on and took to walking it back.

I thought I didn’t like the big dragon horse flies, but I started wishing for them as we made our way down this new path. It was like walking through a wall of gnats. We didn’t stop waving our arms the whole time. We stopped to put on another layer of deet to no avail. He veered us off to another path under different trees. For a few moments, it was better, but then, flies flies flies. So. Gross.

Thankfully, he can read a map and has a good sense of direction. We saw buildings. I get excited when I see buildings because that means we made it. Of course, I checked out the bathroom again, and we ate some more food. I kept happy dancing. The park is such a pretty place.

Then we hopped in our cars and drove down the road to Target Rock. There’s another history lesson here. Something about the British again. I’m pretty sure they would shoot at the big rock in the water for target practice. In the distance beyond the water, I was mesmerized by the smokestacks out in Northport. Something about smokestacks and electricity scaffolding sends me reeling.

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Also sending me reeling, in a different way, was when Capt was like, Oh, there’s a tick on my sneaker. He flicked it off. I jumped up yelling, Tick Check Tick Check! And then proceeded to scour every inch of cloth and skin I could see. No ticks. And that’s when my bikini top closure snapped in half and my top fell off. This is how I hike.

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We hadn’t visited Target Rock in fifth grade, so that was brand new. Caumsett now is a bit different from fifth grade Caumsett. The brick of the buildings, the red ink rocks, the tall yellowing grass, that’s all the same. Actually, it’s probably mostly the same. I’ve changed, not nature. I’m more inclined to actually go out into it. I actually enjoy it.

P. S. I wore knee high socks. Because of ticks. Quit your worrying.

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Outdoorsy Part II: Jayne’s Hill, Sibling Adventures Edition

Sibling Adventure Time!

On a previous Sibling Adventure, my brother and I thought we’d find Jayne’s Hill when we went to see some other hills. We didn’t find Jayne’s Hill. This time, the main mission was Jayne’s Hill. Again, we almost didn’t find Jayne’s Hill.

Jayne’s Hill is the highest point on Long Island. It’s in the middle of the woods up a rocky trail out in Huntington accessible by a park that has a dog park and also accessible at some other pathway somewhere else. I’m a wealth of knowledge concerning all things geography. The path is shared by horses, dogs, and hikers. And bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Also, I do not know why it is called Jayne’s Hill.

We figured we’d be able to meet up mid-morning, hike up, hike down, and be done by noon so that he could go meet his friend for lunch and I could meet T and D at the picnic tables next to the dog park for lunch, too.

We should have known this plan might have had some flaws when I was able to find the parking lot and he wasn’t. He called and was like, I’m in a parking lot with horses. And I was like, You need to go South or North or East or West, like keep going up or down the road you were coming from. Again, so helpful with spatial navigation. However, it worked! He found me, and we found the trail, and away we went!

Then we were done! After maybe ten minutes, we wound up walking in a circle back out to where we began. We had not gone up to any recognizable elevation. We looked at each other quizzically. Then we saw a sign that said Main Path. Oh! We hadn’t been on the Main Path. Let’s take the Main Path.

The Main Path was much like the short path we’d just taken, only steeper with more rocks and sand and dirt and ditches and mud and bugs. We spent much of the time swatting our arms in front of our faces even though we’d already sprayed on our bug spray. I was covered in layers of sun screen, bug spray, and sweat. And now dirt because that’s what sticks to you when you’ve slathered things on your skin.

We noticed that there were some signs and blazes, but none of them really told us where to go or where we might be headed. We’d read about following the white hashes, so we tried to do that. Every time there was a fork in the path, we took the one that seemed to go more up because Jayne’s Hill is up. You can’t get more up than Jayne’s Hill. How many times can I say Jayne’s Hill?

We found some fantastic views. We were up high. Like super high. We had to be close.

I mentioned that none of this path looked like the path the guy on the video took to get to the rock at the top. A PhD student put together a hike on Zoom for Walt Whitman Birthplace Association (you know, the place that named me Long Island Poet Of The Year? Yeah, them). I watched some of the hike to get the lowdown on Whitman–a quote from his poetry is on a plaque on a boulder at the top of the hill, and come to think of it, how did the boulder get up there? I guess nature put it there. Anyway, the hike we were on did not look like the hike the PhD guy was on.

Then suddenly we were down low and back in the dog park. We hadn’t seen Jayne’s Hill, yet we’d hiked for about an hour. This is why the path didn’t seem like the one on the video. It simply was not the one on the video.

There are a few maps near the gate of the dog park, so we checked those out. They were nearly indecipherable, but I took a picture of them because the sign said to take a picture of them. We headed back to the starting path to try again.

And that’s where we found a sign that said Jayne’s Hill. This would have been very helpful had we seen it the first time around. What had happened was after we did the two minute walk in a circle, we were at an angle where we saw Main Path instead of Jayne’s Hill. Now that we skipped the walk in a circle, we found the sign. Hooray, we were going to see the highest point of LI after all. Also, the sign does not have an apostrophe, so maybe it’s supposed to be Jaynes Hill, but I’m not about to change how I’ve been writing it. And maybe the sign is wrong.

We came across a hiking man who seemed to be coming down from up high, so I asked him, Do you know if this is the way to Jayne’s Hill? He was like, I think so; I got up to the top and saw a giant rock and planned to ask my kids if I made it. I was like, Yes, congrats, that’s it! He was like, Thanks! Then he told us when we come to a blaze that has two hashes, take the one that’s higher up. Good to know!

Every time we came to a new blaze with a fork in the path, we took the one that was higher up. We were gaining momentum. We were fighting the bugs. We were drenched with sweat. We came across some pink spray-painted plants, and then some gnarly roots. We passed by high grass on the narrowest part, and I was making the kind of noises you make when you’re 5 and don’t like the taste of the medicine that will cure your ear infection (the bottle says it tastes like banana-strawberry, but really it tastes like chalky sidewalk). My brother was like, it’s grass. I was like, we have to do a tick check. He was like, yeah, okay, but it’s just grass.

Then we came to the steps. There are 43 steps to get up to the top, and so we climbed 43 steps. At just about the top, we saw the top of a round object. The boulder!

Sidenote: One of my favorite lines from any movie is the line from Shreck when Donkey says, “That is a nice boulder.” I laugh every time, and I don’t know why.

My brother was like, Go ahead, this is your thing. Awwww! Gleeful, I climbed the last few steps and made it to the top with him in close tow. There we were, finally at the top of the highest point of Long Island, Jayne’s Hill. There were Whitman’s words emblazoned on a plaque embedded into a large rock.

We stayed for a short while to take it all in and also to rest before the trek down. I’d texted T and D to let them know I’d be a few minutes late. Having taken the Main Path, we were a bit behind schedule.

A bit behind turned into a lot behind. You see, we had an easy time going up because the random man told us how to read the hashes. Going down, we got confused. Do we still follow the up, or do we now follow the down? Also confusing is the fact that the map, which I took a picture of as instructed, did not match anything in the woods. There were signs for trails like the Green Fence Trail and Kissenger Trail. The map showed Chipmunk Trail and Deep Laurel Trail. None of this lined up.

We walked in circles. We went up and down. We double-backed. At one point, my brother was like, There’s the parking lot. I looked to where  he was pointing down and over the side and was like, That is a parking lot, but it’s not the one where we parked. Then he was like, I think I hear a horse, so we must be close to the end. I was like, No, that’s a rooster.

Sidenote: As much as my brother loves being outdoors, especially riding his bike and taking stunning photos, he’s a city boy. He gives tours of NYC. So, like, horse versus rooster really isn’t something he would care too much about.

Then we found the neon graffiti. My left-right confusion kicked in. Which way do we go? Which way did we come from? We took one way, couldn’t find white blazes, and came back. We took another way, couldn’t find white blazes, and came back. Finally, I retraced the steps for maybe a third time and finally understood what he meant when he was pointing us in a different direction. I was like, Oh! We’ve gotta go up to go down again! He was like, Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying.

Still, I know the difference between neighing and crowing.

We made progress quickly until we came to a spot that had maybe five different paths to choose. Thank goodness I’d stopped that guy to ask directions at the beginning because I remembered this is where I’d asked him. We knew where to go. Then we found a tree we’d had to scramble over. And then, we found the path out of the woods, just in time for me to wave across the picnic area at T and D who’d started lunching, and just in time for me to run to the bathroom because for the last half hour, I’d had to pee so bad that three times I thought about poppin’ a squat despite the tick and bug infestation in the woods. (My brother: Why didn’t you pee before we started? Me: I did. My brother: Then why do you have to pee again? Me: I’m a woman.)

No ticks. All sweat. Lots of dusted up dirt. Some Whitman. Lots of good memories. Another sibling adventure day done right.

Jayne's Hill July 9 (17)

Outdoorsy Part I: Sunken Meadow

I’ve got a summer wish list that I’ve been checking things off of like a woman on a mission who must get all these things done before the bus explodes. You know, like Sandra Bullock in Speed but without Keanu Reeves and without a bus. The reason I’ve been mission-izing my wish list dawned on me in a moment of clarity while microblogging: I’m trying to prove that I can have a fun time on my own without the help of anyone else, thank you very much, so you [most recent guy who broke my heart] can suck it hard. This moment of clarity allowed me to discover the following:

  1. No one ever said I couldn’t have a fun time on my own or with someone. No one ever accused me of not being fun.
  2. I’m having a fun time, so trying to create vengeance through fun seems nonsensical, and takes some of the fun out of the fun.
  3. No one needs to suck anything, hard, soft, or otherwise.

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Most items on my wish list involve nature. I’ve never considered myself a nature girl. Here I am in the summer of quarantine, visiting every state park I can with a handy Empire Pass in my back pocket. Something about lockdown brings out the need for nature. Also, Long Island is beautiful, and I want to explore it, especially since travel is out of the question right now.

One of my friends used to work at Sunken Meadow State Park, and all during quarantine he’s been regaling me with these neat vignettes about his antics. What better guide to have? We met up in the parking lot with him driving around to get me and bring me to where I needed to go to start, which I told him was 85% going to happen (the %15 percent that I would wind up in the right place when there are lots of lots to choose from was generous). Then off we went, onto a trail and over a bridge and I stopped short.

It. Was. Gorgeous. The sky was overcast, and the clouds were moving grey, and the water was running right under us, and there were birds, and the mountain shone so evergreen (okay, it’s not a mountain. It’s a big hill. But maybe a mountain. I don’t know. I’m new to nature, remember).

We went up a path, found a picnic area, and went up another path, and then another kind of steep path. At the top of that one, he stopped and was like, Yeah, that hill deserves a break. Lungs pounding, I stopped too and was like, Thank you for saying that because I thought I was out of shape for a moment. He told me on the other side of the fence nearby was a hill called Cardiac Hill. So what did we just climb? I couldn’t figure out how it could be much different since the fence was simply separating us from the same mountain/hill/land-incline.

Then suddenly, I was walking on a ledge and then through a forest and we were in the woods, y’all. And then through the woods, up and down and on steep and narrow winding paths, I reminded him, If you encounter a really large gap, we’ll have to double back. Because, you know, I’m short, and I wasn’t about to leap over a gap when the landing was wide enough for only one of my tiny feet. Luckily, no leaping was needed, and we came to the bluffs, and we were at the beach.

So to recap: we were on a mountain => we were in a forest => we were at the beach.

How does this even happen? Whoever complains about Long Island needs to be dragged up Cardiac Hill and rolled down a beach bluff.

We got down to the beach, and he gave me options: walk back through the woods or walk on the beach. The beach! The beach! The North Shore beaches are rocky and narrow, and since I’m a South Shore gal, I don’t get enough of these other kinds of beaches.

Apparently, when you’re from the North Shore, you skip rocks. When you’re from the South Shore, you do something you call skipping rocks, but all you really do is throw a rock into the water and watch it sink. We tried this several times, my friend showing me form and flicking and finding of the good rocks, and me side-winding and twisting and tossing a rock into the water with very little hopping and a whole lot of going under without much fanfare.

Also along the beach were fishermen. Which meant I walked by a full fish dead on the sand. Also dead was a large crab thingamajig with a long pointy tale, drifting in the shoreline as if it were once alive and decided to be dead to freak me out.

See? I’m so one with nature, now.

Actually, I am somewhat proud of myself. When we finished that path, my friend was like, but wait there’s more! We went down into another part of the park where all these little hermit crabs crawled around, in and out of holes. Crabs walk sideways, y’all! Like, I know this, but like, now I really know it.

At that point, thunder rolled and a bit of a spritz started. He was like, Are you good with rain? I was like, rain doesn’t make me melt, so I’m fine except if there’s lightning. He was like, Yeah, if you see the hair on the top of my head start to rise up…, and I jumped in, Yeah, I’ll take cover, for sure. He stopped and was like, Or maybe you can tell me first as a warning. I make a great friend sometimes.

No lightning. No hair on end. No taking cover. Well, that’s not completely true. We went semi-covered in a semi-covert operation to get a picture of a bird that I decided I wanted to stalk. We’d been talking about a recent new story about a woman who got too close to a moose and was pretty much jacked up by the moose when she got too close. I think everything about that story is right. Leave the animals alone. Follow the rules. If you break the rules and annoy the animals, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Okay, maybe you get upset, but you deserve it. A little over an hour later, here I am in marshy territory, sneaking all up in this bird’s business because I decide I want to be friendly with the animals instead of being grossed out by them (in my defense, both animals I encountered on the beach were dead, and that’s freaky). The bird kept flying away from me, and then I decided to maybe leave it alone before it went all Hitchcock on me.

We came up on the boardwalk. We walked over two more bridges. We finished a whole lot of the park, which meant we’d finished a whole segment of the Greenbelt. The Greenbelt trailis 32 miles running north and south. In my days at Heckscher, I completed some of it. Now here I was at the other end, another segment complete. Is it possible to complete in one day? My Great Saunter experiences point to a big fat No for me.

Sunken Meadow July 7 (2)

With sand in my shoes, wind in my hair, sweat on my skin, and a hum of sky in my ears, we finished the hike, regrouped in our cars, and called it a day.  A great day, for sure.

Microblogging Part 3

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Making friends as an adult is not easy, especially for a socially awkward introvert who can’t walk into a room of people without hyping herself up.(You should see the hype routine). Looking back, I now know I lost a lot of my life and who I’d been while I was married. A lot of friendships changed—as they do anyway—and some of the closest friends I had then were his. I’d lost a group of artistic writer friends before him, and after him, I felt like I’d lost my best friend—because I had. Still, those friendships I’d seen as drifting away did come around. When my dad died, they were there. When my wasband left, they were there. Still it wasn’t the same because I’d changed. Climbing back out of the wreckage, I’ve made acquaintances and strengthened bonds that I thought were at first frivolous or forced. Then I returned to the writing scene. Then I returned to the social scene. I returned to live my life as a new person, backed by therapy and Buddhism. Then this workshop came along. Here was a monthly gathering for not only reading but creating. The pandemic hit a few months later and my upward climb to building all who I am plateaued. Then suddenly, a friend I’d grown close to decided to not be part of my life, and losing someone special when we’re in these strange times is a greater loss than usual. And then all the losses piled up at once. And also, so did my friendships. I would not be able to be living this life if I didn’t have the most wonderful people surrounding me with such generosity, kindness, and heart. I am an adult, and I’ve made new friends, the kind I can call in the middle of the night if I need to, and also the kind who wouldn’t be into that, and that’s ok too. People need people in all different ways. Sometimes when you’re lost and you don’t know where to find your tribe, your tribe finds you. I am so grateful for the friends I’ve had for decades and the new ones I’ve made and for this writing workshop that lifts my spirits with every single word. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #heartbreak #friendshipismyfavoriteship #thankyouforbeingafriend #longisland #longislandpoetry #longislandwriter #southbaysundays #writingworkshop

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Here’s the sun and the clouds unfiltered. And now here’s me unfiltered: I once had a seven year friendship with an artist whose work stunned me. Through her, I met another poet, whose work was also stunning. Those years were filled with impromptu artistic salons, bridal showers and a wedding, long days of hanging out at the preserve, eating African peanut soup, yoga, and the tribulations and sagas of men. Then one of those sagas took a turn. For months, maybe even a year, she’d been seeing someone I’d dated that ended with him simply never calling me. It wasn’t the guy that shook me. It was the lie. It was the getting the email that said I need to tell you something and the story of how they were going to Venice because they were in love. It was realizing that all that time, I’d been the only one in the room who didn’t know. Maybe I knew on some level—found it odd that he’d show up in places where we were. Felt our friendship being strained by something I couldn’t figure out. That friendship ended abruptly. My poet friend then said if it truly was the lie, then I wouldn’t be speaking to her or anyone in their circle. And she was right. An entire world of artists cut out. I know I’m better for it, but to lose that much all at once devastates the soul. And now, it’s coming back to me, like all the other losses that continue to pile high, and so I walk, always looking up, continuing to go through to get through. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #nofilter #amwriting #grantpark #alwayslookup

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Four weeks makes one month. No, I’m not over it. We are never over it. We get through. I’m not through yet, either. The other day I got angry at myself, thinking I’m overreacting. I wrote a list of recent losses. It went twenty deep and I hadn’t reached all the deaths yet. So no, I’m not overreacting. I’m grieving everything all at once, and that may be a silver lining. Go through it all at once so that when I’m through, I’m through. Which isn’t realistic. Things happen. Remember when the tree fell on me? I could have died, and I didn’t. Anyone can die at any time. People leave. Love changes, or maybe chemistry shifts. So when I go through to get through, that means everything. It means life. It means always moving forward into the sad and into the joy. It means taking chances knowing that hurt exists and could happen, and so does beauty and bliss. It means I am so grateful that I’ve found gratitude, truly and genuinely, and I know it’s real because blue skies make me tear up with awe, bunnies make me gasp and giggle, and a smile returned makes me believe the world is good and still can be a better place. I want to be part of that, and through this maybe I already am. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #longisland #heckscherstatepark #alwayslookup #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #fitspo #piyo #piyobod #ispyny

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Once upon a time, I was Auntie Christina to three wonderful girls. I was scared to be an aunt because I don’t get children. Like, what do we talk about? Like, how do I play? This confusion stems from my never being a child myself; I was always a little adult. I’m more of a kid now than I’ve ever been, and that’s what made me able to fit the role seamlessly. I loved being an aunt. It’s been a few years since I’ve been called an aunt. I never got to say goodbye—but there have been a few messages here and there, one of the true perks of Insta. Even so, it’s not the same. When I was pushed out of love, my brother fell in it, and along came two little girls. I didn’t want to meet any of them because I didn’t want to invite in more people who could just as easily be taken away. The day I signed my divorce papers, I met my brother’s girlfriend. They clearly were in love. I liked her a lot. Then one day I met her girls. And now we’re the best of friends. I’m still scared of loss and also so grateful for joy. PS: We’re all walking on the same foot! #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter

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My photography friend snapped this during a photo shoot when we were happily blowing bubbles at Jones Beach. Where are the bubbles and where is the fun? This photo is proof that we can feel more than one emotion in a moment. Here I am happy and fierce. I’m frustrated and carefree. This was before the death of my dad and before the disappearance and divorce of my wasband. Even then, when I consciously thought life was perfectly fine, I contained multitudes below the surface. Here they made a quick appearance. Now a few years later, my therapist says this sucks, meaning all the loss and how it’s retroactively coming up. All my losses are real, so feeling sad is completely natural, which means I’m being super normal in an abnormal world. The main difference between then and now is my confidence in letting my insecurities shimmer and my confusion shine. There is power in letting go of embarrassment and embracing the awkward discomfort of uncertainty. I don’t know exactly who I am, but I’m grateful I have the opportunity to figure it out. This, all of it, is my best life. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #longislandphotoshoot #jonesbeach #warriorprincess

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Today I made new memories. I went to this park once by myself. The second time I went was with someone, and it was my first time out in the world after quarantine started. I was freaked out by all the people living their lives. This had all been going on as I’d been holed up in my house for months. I felt safe only because who I was with made me feel that way. Today I went back a third time, found the long path around the lake, and walked that as well as some of the trails I’d previously taken. I was alone and felt safe because I finally remember my own strength. New memories to replace the samskara. New memories to build new neural pathways. I’ve become attached to the walking, which is the opposite of vairagya, or non-attachment. At the same time, walking is helping me practice Aparigraha, non-possessiveness, because slowly I feel the non-attachment to the brokeness emerge. This is the duality of yoga. This is the duality of life. Letting go of letting go. Going through to get through. The other side is more life of the same. Life doesn’t change. The true self doesn’t change. The only real change is how we choose to react. I’m making choices that work. I’m making choices that fail. Along the way, I’m learning and laughing and crying and being, and I’m so grateful for all of it. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #essayist #creativenonfiction #longislandwriter #longislandyoga #longisland #longislandparks #hempsteadlakestatepark #fitspo #piyo #piyobod #alwayslookup

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Microblogging Part 2

I don’t know if this is a cop out, microblogging instead of blogging here. I’m writing. I suppose that’s all that matters.

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I’m sitting on this bench, my dad’s bench, right now with a stop-the-spread-of-COVID mask over my face and sunglasses on. I’m typing on my phone, something I rarely do to write, and I’m sobbing. The plus of masks is that no one knows you’re crying. Though it’s probably obvious. These are body wracking sobs. But I keep typing because somehow writing is going to make it okay. That’s not true. Nothing is going to make it okay. My wasband used to talk about losing a parent, how it changes you. The morning he left, one thing he wailed was, “and I’m still sad about my dad“. He’d passed years before. One night when my dad was in the hospital with a high fever, my wasband came into the bedroom in a sob. “I don’t want to make you upset but” he started crying. I took him into a hug on the edge of the bed. “It’s okay” I said. “You can be upset, too. You guys are buddies. “ “I’ve tried to keep thinking he’s going to make it, but tonight I really think he might not.” “I know, I know.” My dad made it through that night and the next few weeks. Now, my dad’s still gone. That’s how death works. It’s permanent. It changes you. It’s never okay. The life we live before we die is the main thing. That’s a dad phrase: that’s the main thing. Getting therapy when we need it. Facing terror when we must. Sharing our feelings and not apologizing for having emotions. These are the actions we can take so that the rest of what we live is worth the life we are gifted. #gettingthroughit #grief #heartbreak #gratitude #grateful #missyoudad #longisland #hendricksonpark #911survivor #september11 #endalz

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A little over two weeks ago, I shared this in my story with the eloquent caption, “ok fuck it. The bod is back and I’m shouting it out. I don’t care who sees. Quarantine, in this way, has been good to me.” I was coming off a night of no sleep. I’d been blindsided. I fell into despair pretty quickly. (I’m still climbing out.) Quarantine has not been good. It’s not good for humans. I lasted a bit longer in not climbing the walls because I’m an introvert. Yes, folks, I’m debilitatingly shy. This may surprise some people—most likely the people I thought about before saying “fuck it” and posting this. I’ve got a crowd of recent students still following, and who knows what they’re stopping to read. (And they’re amazing—as students and as human beings). But as I always say, I’m a person, too, not just a professor. So here’s me, being a person who’s lived her whole life not looking at mirrors. Avoiding any reflective surfaces. Right now I’m in the best shape of my life, and I still feel like hiding the chub. And it doesn’t help when people tell me I’m skinny. It doesn’t matter what you think; it matters how I feel. Which doesn’t make sense because how I feel is based on what I think people think of how I look. It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve been left. I’ve been lonely. I’ve felt insecure. Also, in my moments of feeling ugly and sad, I’ve seen the strength and perseverance of friendship in all its many colors. Though lonely and vulnerable, I feel loved. Knowing that, I can get through anything. #gettingthroughit #gratitude #grateful #heartbreak #grief #bodyimage #bodydysmorphia #friendshipismyfavoriteship #fitspo #microblogging #essayist #englishprofessor #introvert #piyo #piyobod

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I met David and Stephanie right after @sip_this opened their doors, fliers in hand, talking all about the poetry scene. They welcomed Poets In Nassau quickly, truly welcoming the poets and writers to run amok on the mic. They opened their walls to artists (I was honored to have my work shown years ago and my brother’s just last year). They opened the floor to musicians and comedians and drag queens. Then there was that one time we won music trivia. And there were those many times we lost trivia. And there were all those days in between of first dates, writing meet ups, grabbing a snack and a chat with a friend. Sip This hasn’t simply supported the community. They’ve been the community, standing as the common thread among all walks of life locally and from afar. Anyone who walked through that door belonged just by being there. I am so thankful that this place has existed, and I wish everyone much light and love. #longisland #valleystream #sipthis #grateful #gratitude #gettingthroughit #Repost @sip_this with @get_repost ・・・ We regret to inform you that this Friday 6/26 will be our last night in operation. For nine years we have enjoyed serving you. We thought Sip This would last much longer and we, our staff, and our families, are deeply saddened by this outcome. That said, there are wonderful memories and friendships that will continue. We know our time here was not for naught. There is so much good that was created in our time at Sip This: new love, countless hours of fun, business deals, random connections, shared art, and community coming together through events we helped facilitate. If we don’t see you Friday (4pm to 11pm), we hope to see you again soon. Thank you for all the support. -David and Stephanie ✌🏼❤️☕️

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“Will this bring up sad memories for you?” L&B Spumoni Gardens—memories of that place for sure. She was referring to the time we went on July 4th with my dad. We stopped at L&B for pizza. Then we went to the pier for fireworks. There’s a photo I share often of me and my dad in which I’m holding a full cup of froyo and he’s holding the nub of an already eaten ice cream cone, which is from that night. It was so crowded, and at one point I was like, “Dad, I’m more comfortable if you walk in front of me,” and my other friend at that time said, “Don’t worry—I was watching him too.” Because it takes a village to raise a dad. I love talking about my dad and remembering him. Those are not sad memories. Today in the car, S added, “Sad memories or bad memories.” Because my wasband is from Brooklyn. L&B was part of my life with him and with the couple who went with us to the pier and whom we called our children because of our age difference. And even though they are gone from my life now, the memories don’t make me sad or feel bad. Sometimes I feel angry. Sometimes I feel nothing. And then sometimes, I smile. Moments are moments. If something is really really good in the moment, it’s a good good moment. Today was filled with good good moments, and even with a mask hanging off of my ear, for a small moment, the world was a normal, safe place. Thanks, S, for always making it seem that way. #friendshipismyfavoriteship #thankyouforbeingafriend #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #brooklyn #spumonigardens @lbspumonigardens @southpawsweets @candyisart

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It’s been three weeks and I found a new path—literally, it’s a path I haven’t seen before. It’s through the reeds away from the bay. One day I’ll take it; today was not that day. Today was the day I took two steps in, saw the bugs, and ran away. I’d like to think I’m not running away. I’d like to think that filling my days with walking and friends and writing is moving forward. Maybe it’s both. All I know is that it’s still hard, and I’m still sad, and when it’s nighttime and everything is quiet, my mind races through every struggle. After every struggle, I know there lies triumph. The other day, someone called me resilient. Then she said she wished I didn’t have to be. And that’s exactly the right thing to say. #gettingthroughit #grief #gratitude #grateful #heartbreak #alwayslookup #fitspo #longisland #longislandwriter #heckscherstatepark #piyo #piyobod #ispyny

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Microblogging And Essaying

The big news is I’m writing a creative nonfiction collection. I realized this when I started microblogging about two and a half weeks ago. In case you missed it, here they are.

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One year ago today, I came back to life. I’d had my first cofeature back in March for B J Spoke Gallery where I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen and had known for over a decade. I became good friends with the co-feature, whose poetry was brilliant. A few months later, I was walking with Whitman. The open mic was fun. My reading made me feel energized. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely at ease, totally in control, and simply happy. I met people from far and wide; several still keep in touch. The band 1 Step Ahead played, starting with a few bars of Brown Eyed Girl since I’d referenced it in a poem. Then a few months later, I was named 2020 Long Island Poet of the Year for @waltwhitmanbirthplace . I am forever grateful for this day, this reading, and all the people in my life who have gotten me through and continue to. #poetsoninstagram #poetsofinstagram #longislandpoets #longislandpoetry #waltwhitmanbirthplace #1stepaheadband #walkingwithwhitman #bjspokegallery @b.j.spokegallery #gettingthroughit #grief #heartbreak #gratitude #grateful #longislandwriter

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This is me sad & strong & broken & hopeful & devastated & healing & grateful. I know the exact date I was last at this park, the day two friends would marry in a wedding that was going to be the wedding of the century. A few months before, they were no longer my friends because they were his friends and when he left, they left. They got married, and I came here. And I walked and walked. Today, freshly wounded, I walked and walked again. And that’s what I keep doing. I keep going through it to get through it. #gettingthroughit #longisland #gratitude #alwayslookup #fitspo #grateful #grief #heartbreak #heckscherpark #greatsouthbay #piyo #piyobod #ispyny

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Nature is a newish thing for me. I’ve always been scared of it—I’ve always been scared of everything. Something in my brain switched either off or on and I understand it more. I still jump at every sound. And also I stand in awe at the vibrant life that simply is. Here I am in nature in the summer wearing a fall jacket because nature does what it does. The heart wants what the heart wants. I feel silly and foolish for hurting, and also what a blessing to release what’s been stored there for so long. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been truly happy all this time. It means simply I’ve been both. Gleeful and awkward and laughing and wailing and always thankful for the wonders of this world. #gratitude #gettingthroughit #alwayslookup #grateful #grief #heartbreak #newyork #iloveny #ispyny

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Sometimes FB does nice things like this video of me and my brother. We weren’t super close growing up. We liked each other and had movies we like and still quote from. We liked some of the same music; he’s the reason I adore Def Leppard. Also, we made fun of our parents together. We never really hung out though. At some point in our youngish adult lives, we started to treat each other like real people. When I was married, I always made a point to invite him along on nonromantic fun excursions. Looking back on those years, I realize he returned the favor by calling me once a week. Our sibling adventures began before my marriage, continued during it, and keep going now. In the past weeks, this is the advice he’s given me: 1. Keep being yourself. 2. Keep your head up. I’m grateful to have a brother I can call my friend. #gratitude #siblingadventures #siblingbonding #bestbrother #gettingthroughit #grief #heartbreak #grateful #longisland #queens #siblingadvice #familyiseverything

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An Anniversary Of Me

One year ago today, I came back to life. I’d had my first cofeature back in March for B J Spoke Gallery where I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen and had known for over a decade. I became good friends with the co-feature, whose poetry was brilliant.
A few months later, I was walking with Whitman. The open mic was fun. My reading made me feel energized. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely at ease, totally in control, and simply happy. I met people from far and wide; several still keep in touch. The band 1 Step Ahead played, starting with a few bars of Brown Eyed Girl since I’d referenced it in a poem.
Then a few months later, I was named 2020 Long Island Poet of the Year for Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.
I am forever grateful for this day, this reading, and all the people in my life who have gotten me through and continue to.
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I Want A Fog Machine

Poetry needs more fog machines. There. I said it. It cannot be undone.

Sometimes I think I’m going overboard with the astronaut ice cream, but now I’ve kind of got the reputation as that poet who gives away astronaut ice cream, so really, there may not be such a thing as too kitschy, too gimmicky. Maybe wearing a space suit, but even then, maybe not.

Crossroads Talent hosts a talent showcase every second Friday of the month. I know this only because someone from that group found me on Instagram and has been asking me for months to join the show. This past month, I was free the night of the event, so I said I’d do it.

Then it dawned on me that I should probably look up the show. I found disco lights, smoke machines, step troupes, and rappers. Some soul singers and some R&B singers. More rappers. Lots of fog.

Now I have no problem being the outlier in a lineup. I was, however, left wondering why this guy had consistently asked me to be part of the show when clearly I do not do anything anyone else does. Still, I’d committed, and so I went.

Off to the American Legion! DB and EA met up with me, and what we found was what I would call the equivalent of a fun school dance. There was a drum kit and guitars set up with flashy lights and the fog maker. There were chairs flanking a blank space that would no doubt be a dance floor. There were decorations for Valentine’s Day, and that’s when I realized, hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. And then there were donuts.

I don’t know how to describe the donut situation other than abundant. Just when you thought they were done putting out the donuts, there was another tray being set down. The donuts had not been on the clips I’d seen of the previous events; maybe they’d been hidden by the fog. In any case, a pleasant perk, for sure.

Everyone was so incredibly nice. Anyone involved in putting on the production kept making sure everyone felt welcome and supported. They asked the audience to crowd around the performers to show them love. Their kind of love showing and my kind of love showing are a little different because an audience five inches from a performer’s face seems more intrusive than loving, but still, most of the performers seemed to enjoy it. Some even asked for people to get closer. I stayed near my seat, but I did stand and clap and cheer. I loved how supportive everyone was of everyone else, especially for the performers who were 13, 14, and 15 years old. When I was that age, I wore mismatched oversized sweatpants and stayed in my bedroom listening to Paula Abdul and eating rice cakes while pondering all the ways I didn’t fit it in in life, so kudos to them for even stepping out into the world. I turned out pretty okay, though, because here I was, too.

The night kept going. The smoke machine kept billowing. There were some R&B singers and then a string of rappers followed by a Hawaiian dance group followed by another string of rappers. I don’t listen to rap all that much, but I do enjoy it from time to time. However, this was getting to be a lot. Also, some performers were leaving right after they performed, and I’m not a big fan of that. So after about two hours, I decided I’d had enough, and my posse of two agreed.

I took my name off the list, and one of the event planners told me he’d put me up next and I didn’t have to leave. That was really sweet, but then I’d stay even longer because I don’t leave right after performing. So I thanked him profusely, said I could come back another month, and then left.

What this group does for artists means a whole lot. There’s no place else I know of that invites people of every artistry of every age to do what they love to do for free and gives them donuts and a fog maker to boot. The world needs more of this kind of love.