There's also this. George is the handyman for the building. Is it possible to do shoddier work? I won't let him in my house because he leaves a mess & whatever he fixes has to be fixed again in no time. It's amazing that Mike-the-landlord continues to employ him, especially now that all the apartments aren't cheap dumps.
This amazing sky that I probably would not have stared at or photographed or even noticed if it weren't for spending so much time on the roof of our building. That's one reason that it hasn't been the worst summer ever. Or maybe it has—who remembers "before"? Actually it feels like it's simultaneously the worst & the best, which is dang confusing.
"I'm glad to report that even now, at this late day, a blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me—more promising than a silver cloud, prettier than a little red wagon. It holds all the hope there is, all fears. I can remember, really quite distinctly, looking a sheet of paper square in the eyes when I was seven or eight years old and thinking, 'This is where I belong, this is it."
~ E. B. White, letter to Stanley Hart White January 1947
I met him once, when he brought a pair of his wife's (tiny) shoes into the shoe repair store where I worked in Ellsworth, Maine. I said, E.B. White? I love you! And in an utterly kind way, he said, I love you too. It was obvious that he responded to people with what they brought to him. He wasn't interested in me but he gave me a genuine moment.
The wonderful Nick Sturm sent me this video of a Swiss TV show (in German) filmed at the Poetry Project in 1981 that he figured out how to get onto YouTube. Ted Berrigan, Maureen Owen (unchanged—how is that even possible?), Ron Padgett, Elio Schneeman, Steve Carey, Bob Holman, Brodey, Ginsberg, Barg + cameos of lots of others (Rene Ricard, Steve Levine, Rose Lesniak, Danny Krakauer). I really miss Ted's voice, & I miss Ted & all the others who aren't around. It's probably only fun to watch if you know the people but I loved seeing these snatches of what I now realize is the past, although I can't say when that happened.
Small note: neither my husband nor my best friend recognized me. Will you?
It's never restful
to talk with impatient
the ones who watch your eyes
as you look
they speak too soft
they laugh late
they have a tragedy
they keep you here
by dismissing you
Why was there a giant ice floe at the back of the fridge—not the freezer, the fridge? Why couldn't I chip it off with a butter knife & rubber mallet like I used to do when our freezer that didn't even work filled with ice every week? Instead, the shelf shattered & then I spent an hour picking up the glass & still trying to get that ice out. A mug was so stuck that when I tried to pull it out, I yanked off the handle. Where can I get a replacement shelf? Do I have to get a whole nother refrigerator? I thought it would cost $400 for a fridge but the cheapest one I can find costs $1,000. I will be better off trying to find a shelf. Where do shelves come from? My landlord, who sells appliances, was no help. This is exhausting.
What I'm reading now:
• The Education of Henry Adams, the grandson & great-grandson of presidents, he is humble & hilarious in this autobiography.
• Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch. It's 900 pages (+ 150 pages of notes), Pulitzer Prize–winning, & riveting. And this is only part 1 of 3.
• Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, by Modris Eksteins. Not as gripping as I'd expected, given my interest in the topic. But now that he's in Berlin (instead of with dancers in Paris), I'm revving up.
• Poems of Steve Carey. If I ever forget his big generous voice, these give it back to me.
• Helen in Egypt, by H.D. Beautiful & valiant.
• Giants in the Earth, O.E. Rolvaag. Sadly, I'm coming to the end. The copy I"m reading is at home & I appreciate having one at my office as well.
I'm reading a few things on Kindle too—The Mill on the Floss, a Swediah mystery, essays by Diana Athill. And the newspapers. I am fine with reading on my phone or iPad but there's nothing like holding a book, even one so heavy, like the Taylor Branch, that I am giving myself a torn muscle in my arm. I guess reading is what I do most of the day. Why don't I have a better chair?
We got an hour or two of hard rain, branches down, & now it is so lovely & cool, & the light is light not thick with heat.
Life is so terrible & wonderful.
One day when Adams was pleading with a Cabinet officer for patience and tact in dealing with Representatives, the Secretary impatiently broke out: "You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!"
The most troublesome task of a reform President was that of bringing the Senate back to decency.
I'm reading with huge enjoyment The Education of Henry Adams. These are both quotes from the chapter on President Grant, but there are frequent observations that seem just as timely as they must have 150 years ago. And it's interesting to be the fly on the wall of diplomatic maneuvers in England during the Civil War when his father (son of President John Quincy Adams) was representing the federal government there. This is just one example of his wry take on affairs of the day.
I guess self-improvement with a roommate can only go so far. At least that's what I imagine is the reason I saw this abandoned on 3rd St early this morning.
Of the 10 people in this picture that I knew when it was taken, I have seen or spoken with more than half recently. They are some of my oldest & closest friends. I love to look at us then & think about how much more beautiful we are now, with the richness of our lives building our faces & characters & friendships.
Time Wasn't Linear
I have never been disappointed
in anyone who was part of the House
it was formative
how I knew the world
We arrived & were enlightened
— just like that! —
then spent the next 50 years
though we always acted
the big bang of understanding
as we reassemble the shards
We're from Syracuse & Spartanburg,
Bridgeport & Sioux Falls,
Alabama, Ohio & Tennessee
but our true homeland is The House
Despite the catastrophic end of the zucchini, I am (overly) excited about our tomato. How do people get buckets full? We so hope to get one. This one. The only one.
A farmer's life is difficult & tragic.
However, I bought the whole Harvard classics in 71 volumes for Kindle for $1.99. I would be surprised if I read a word of it—everything from Ben Franklin to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson by way of Machiavelli, Locke, Pasteur, English poetry, Darwin, et hundreds al—but it was irresistible.
Last night I finally felt OK about this summer. Despite the anxieties & restrictions, it seemed like there was nothing I wanted more than to bask on the roof, fret over our one tiny tomato (after giving up on the zucchini, which got gnawed to the nub) & talk casually/seriously with my best friend. Night after night.
It feels like the 1970s (or even older — from summer vacation as a kid), when I had all the time in the world, no place I had to be & nothing I had to do, & couldn't afford it if I wanted to do something else. Just waiting for whatever might happen & it was always interesting at least, an adventure at best. I'm beginning to reclaim the wide-open feeling of waking up & having the whole day to myself. I thought, this might turn out to be a wonderful summer, despite everything.
Also, we saw fireflies up on the roof.
There's a hydra effect when it comes to reading that I'm sure most readers can relate to: cut the head off one book and two or more take its place on your to-read list. The ungraspable infinity of literature makes choosing the next book more important than we may realize.
~ George Salis in an interview about his first novel
George Salis is a young author & publisher, who I first met because he's a fan of my husband, Johnny Stanton. Check him out & I'm sure you, too, will fall under his spell.
The first sentence is absolutely true. The second, probably but dauntingly true.
It's so hot that walking 3 blocks feels like too much so am I really going to haul my bones over to the West Side (a mile or more!) to try to see the stupid comet? When I want to lie bathed in a/c reading the dignified gossip of Diana Athill? Even knowing that if I don't see it TONIGHT*, I won't get a chance again for 6,800 years isn't stiffening my resolve. I have suffered no repercussions from having missed Hale-Bopp in 1996. As for Halley's in 1986, we did go to the Rockaways, about which you can read in my story, published in Transfer a year or so later, "Me Turtle Be Dead." Is one comet enough for a lifetime? All that distance & silence. I want to be small not enormous I think.
* Apparently we have another week or 2, the deadline isn't tonight. So it ain't gonna be tonight!
My Cat Buster
Buster curling on himself
a disappearing wisp
tomorrow he'll die
Buster still as loving
wanting my hand as he goes
Buster the large-souled kindness
Buster the nonjudgmental
Buster the beloved
I carried him in my arms
wrapped in a towel
he couldn't walk
put him in the carrier
& let him bang against me
it was warm out & sunny
to the sun
he had a kitten
love for fresh
air & adventure
& then he looked at me
he stared in my eyes
& we told each other it was OK,
that we were grateful for love & care
that I was his & he was mine
& the rest didn't matter.
He stared at me: Will you let me go?
I don't want to
but there's no body left
to hold his love.
Buster leaves on his own terms
He decided how it was to be
His body threw him into spasm
& he was gone
this will be 20 years ago
& 100 years ago & I will
Buster is in my heart
I call for him though I know he's not there
I look on his chair & at his dish
my hand rolls to his spot
his smile in the sunshine
despite the hard work of dying
to take every bit of life
& all I did was give him treats &
all he did was love me
& show me
how to be with him
Buster the purringest cat
Buster the accepting
Buster who loved me
it's lonesome in our house
[[[not sure this is ready but I need to get it away from me]]]
Very consistently these days, the people who have it the hardest refer to themselves as lucky (or "very, very lucky") & those who have it the easiest complain the most (& often behave the most, ah, individualistically). Two of many typical examples:
= A woman I know with 3 young children, one of whom has special needs, tells me how fortunate she is because she has access to her ex-husband's pool during this heatwave. What she'll do when her childcare runs out next month, she doesn't know, but she's grateful for it now.
= Contrast that with another woman I know who sobbed because she had to moderate her exercise routine. She lives in an area of parks & lakes, has gone on overnights to outdoor areas, & has treadmills & the like in her house. But all she could talk about was how deprived she is. She has even acted on her privilege of ignoring the virus to vacation in the Caribbean.
One thing that has helped here in New York City is that it's close to impossible to be solipsistic. You have to share: transportation, buildings, sidewalks, parks. You don't get to park where you want & drive everywhere without seeing your neighbors. We are used to being part of a commons. That's also in part because we have a long tradition of strong local/state government. I can't say which comes first but we are, I think, more used to taking others (many others) into account. It's clear to us that a "risk I'm willing to take" affects a lot of people. For people outside of small towns or large cities, a sacrifice for the common good is more abstract.
One outcome is that New York State, after a horrendous start, has brought our C19 rate down to European levels. We're one of a handful of states, most in the Northeast, with dropping or stable numbers.
People live where & how they live & I don't mean this critically as much as I've been trying to understand why I've been so peeved lately. Honestly, I feel like I already live close to the bone (by my choice! no regrets!) — but it's hard to give up things like anticipating trips or browsing at the library, especially when a lot of people I know are giving up so much less & griping so much more. I feel like I'm saying "saltines for dinner? yay!" & they're turning up their noses at "steak again." It's a feeling not a fact, because I AM incredibly lucky & really almost not bitching, but I guess I don't want to hear it from them.
A few minutes ago my eye was caught by a book on my shelves that I'm quite sure has sat there for 25 years unopened, even though it's a topic that interests me. The book: Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins, published in 1990. Why have I never read it? I wondered, & pulled it off the shelf to put in the to-read-next pile. The bookmark has a phone number in Johnny's handwriting so it must have been Johnny's not mine.
One minute later, I got an email from Amazon suggesting I might be interested in that very same book.
How is this possible? Did I fall asleep & wake up with a tracker implanted? It's not a recent book & I haven't looked at any WWI books lately.
Should I be freaked out?
It's 200° out, at least, so every time I wiggle, I practically have a heat stroke. But I managed to get a new battery for my phone (Simple Mac, they're the best!) & run into the lively Sheila R, who spends time in my old Maine stomping grounds, & say hi to the guys at B&H, & wash my hair, & & &. I can't really make that sound like a very active day, can I? I think I went to the store but that may have been yesterday. Maybe we'll walk over to the west side tonight & try to spot the coment. Neowise. I wish it had a better name.
Worry does not empty today of its sorrow, it empties tomorrow of its strength.
~ Corrie Ten Boom
Maybe because it's 98°, maybe because we're into Week 19—four full months—of lockdown, maybe because I don't have a car or a way to get out of town & am jealous that so many people I know outside of New York City have entirely or largely resumed their normal lives, maybe because I feel the summer slipping away even though it's only mid-July, maybe because I finished a couple of projects already that I thought I'd be immersed in for another month or two, or maybe—well, I've run out of steam on the depressing possibilities, but I'm the Queen of Lethargia at the moment. Perhaps I'll return to my ice cream habit of a month ago. Nah, I'm even tired of ice cream, & you know what they say, a person who is tired of ice cream is tired of life. I'll be fine tomorrow, I'm sure, more stirred, less stir-crazy.
I recommend this YouTube tour of the Lower East Side conducted by the Tenement Museum, called "How to Build a Neighborhood: An Architectural Exploration of the Lower East Side."
They covered six building, some old, some new, some both, some commercial & this one (photo), a Federal-style rowhouse dating from 1830s. Most of these were torn down to build tenements, which could house more workers, and many of those were eventually replaced by high rises and projects.
Who knows, if New York ever fails, maybe one day we'll have homes like these again.
I've been disgruntled that so many people don't believe in the pandemic. My friend said if they don't know anyone who's died, or maybe even anyone who's been sick, it's theoretical. And I raged that you shouldn't have to have imagination to believe what's going on around you even if it's not happening to you personally.
That was before the fiend ate our two prize zukes right off their stems (stalks?). All of a sudden the things people had been telling me ("all we got was one raspberry") or I'd been reading (such as the devastating yearly plague of locusts in Giants in the Earth, the wonderful book about Norwegian immigrants to South Dakota that I've been reading nightly on the roof) struck me as real. Up till now I just nodded: what did pests have to do with CityGirl Nauen?
Will it make me less grouchy about Covid deniers? Probably not.
Also, I bought some spray that's supposed to repel not just squirrels but deer, rabbits, raccoons, porcupines & armadillos (& some critters I don't know what they are).
We have an invader. He murdered my beloved zucchini. I feel so sad. He may as well have crawled through the screen & eaten half my cat. Why? Why me? I'm not even joking. Squirrels are such assholes.
Apparently I wasn't supposed to get attached to my garden.
The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.
~ William Hazlitt
Another quote I don't need to gloss, right?