A Victim of Progress, Fading Fast

A victim of progress phone photo 3 25 2017

I have passed by this house on my way to work every day for over twenty years, I admired it for its steadfastness in the urban surroundings. It had once been a beautiful place with gardens, and a gazebo in the back, which had been a more recent addition. The garage was large and interesting in a rambling sort of way that appeared to have been converted from farm use to modern use, and there was an interesting little shed, painted to match the house, it looked like a house itself. The property also had several old trees, especially noted was a grand old oak tree in front. And especially of note, the mailbox at the end of the driveway had a pole with a whimsical second mailbox way up high hanging from an extended arm at the top of the pole, it was marked “Air Mail.”

The last days phone photo 3 25 2017

Of course, this house sat at the intersection of busy roads, it had a front row seat to two stoplights, the city bus stops, daily traffic jams AM and PM, accidents, or almost accidents as cars on slippery days slid through the intersection on the downhill side, the street is a nightmare to drive through on any given day mostly because people drive like assholes and do not follow the rules of the road. There’s an apartment complex to one side, an old gas station stood empty next to it with a “For Sale” sign on it for many years, and beyond that several businesses and more apartment buildings. The house remained as a reminder of what had once been, and for many years, it was always beautiful. But of course, nothing lasts forever.

Coming to an end photo photo 3 25 2017

A couple of years ago, I began to notice the house was becoming shabby, the porch started to sag, the siding needed painting, and some boards fell off along the bottom edge where it had rotted, but the yard stayed neat, a service was coming around to take care of the basics, mowing, plowing. The “Air Mail” box must’ve fallen off during one of the many storms that passed through our area. Then one morning, I saw a U-Haul drive away with several vehicles along with it. The life went out of the house. No one moved in.

The abandoned gas station and the land surrounding it had been for sale for quite a spell and finally sold, and sometime last year the wheeling and dealing for the future of the land was being sorted out by the city and the developer. It’s some new multipurpose retail and residential construction going in there (including “20 Luxury Units” the sign says.) Yes, they even posted the layouts of their multiple use plan. Apparently, this house was the last holdout. This past week the bulldozers have been busy tearing up the land around the house. The garage is gone, the shed is gone, the old gas station gone, the gazebo gone, the trees that look to be over one hundred years old were cut down—these photos show all that was left as of Friday morning, the house and the old oak tree in the front. I knew this was my last chance, and as we drove by, I snapped a few pics on my phone. I was surprised to see that it was still there on Friday night, but I don’t think it’s going to be much longer.

As an owner of an old homestead where the surrounding land that had once been the farm for the farmhouse is slowly being built up, I feel a deep sadness for these old places that are being pushed out by progress. That old house has a history of its own. The walls were witnesses to the lives within and the windows watched the world go by. In one photo, the house appears dismayed by what has happened, and it fears for itself. The old oak tree, battered by many storms, had hung onto its last leaves well into January, is now preparing to unfurl its new leaves on schedule, unaware of its fate—but I’m certain it felt the loss of its younger brethren as they were cut down the other day. Or maybe it’s just me making it all up—my overwhelming empathy that sometimes gets me into trouble. Or maybe, I’m in fear for myself.

fadingfast 2 phone photo 3 25 2017

Added note 3/28/2017

The Old Oak tree was cut down today. The House is still standing, for the first time without the tree standing tall, it’s in pieces on the ground.


The Itch

the solitary tree snow storm3 14 2017

This is a picture I took from my driveway during the March 13th-14th snowstorm (Stella) visiting my acre of the world—we survived the inconvenience like we always do—Upstate New Yorkers know how to deal with the white stuff. Thankfully, the little stray kitty that I’m feeding came out of hiding and ate heartily once the white stuff stopped blowing around. It’s melting away, slowly, enveloping trees in a fog thick as pea soup (or peanut butter if that’s what you prefer.) A big fluffy skunk has been visiting the bird feeder leavings in the evening. Kitty and Stinky seem to have a mutual respect for each other’s space. The snow geese have been arriving in the neighborhood fields, their white angel wings gorgeous against the gray sky. The song birds are singing spring songs in spite of the wacky up and down temps. Migrating noisy flocks of black birds have passed through, picking my bird feeders clean. Spring is here.

Drinking from the Fishbowl is in the design phase, the pile of the first proof is sitting there waiting for me to go through and do what I need to do next. I’m terrified and happy with it (cuz I know there will be people who will hate it and people who will love it, they’ll all have their reasons, but ultimately, I have to be happy with it so…) Being away from  it for over a month or now two has been good for me—I’m happily remembering bits and pieces that I love about it. (Without picking it up and reading it.) So far, I have not recalled anything that is making me itch—tho’ I’m remembering with relief the parts that I cut out and left behind. This is a relief. I’m almost ready to pick it up and begin this final phase. It’s been an exhausting book to write. I want to do it right.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on my 2017 contribution to the Sketchbook Project (the Brooklyn Art Library is the home of the Sketchbook Project, a crowd-funded sketchbook museum and community library space. Check it out! I have about five sketchbooks in their collection, which numbers over 35,500.) As soon as my “little black sketchbook” is finished, I’ll post pictures. I bound it a few days ago (I always take it apart and make it a real project.) I’m working on the finishing scribbles. (I’m always a teeny bit heartbroken when I have to slip it into an envelope and mail it back.) This little sketchbook is reflecting my state of mind—My thoughts are in a snarl lately. Too many projects on my plate, too much to think about, too much of too much going on everywhere I look. With that said, I wrote a little poe-em this morning (imagine that, I wrote a thing so early in the morning!) It’s based on a joke I made at my day job this week, I made a comment about my ear being itchy and laughed that it was my thoughts leaking out cuz my brain is too full.

My ear is itching—

It’s my thoughts

trickling out cuz my

head is too full.

There’s not enough

 room inside my brain

to keep them all.

Too much information—

not just  the TMI kind that

people don’t want

to hear about.

The up to the minute,

the 24/7,

the always on train wreck

of the here and now.

It’s becoming too fucking much.

A distraction distracting me

from quiet time.

Turn it off.

Tune out.

Leave the phone

Leave the tablet

Leave the laptop

Leave the desktop

Leave the television


Listen to the sound

of silence. Breathe.

I can hear my heart beating.

Even if it’s for a little while.

Reminding myself that

I’m alive. Desperately.

Alive. Fuck damn it.

My ear is still itching.

(The Itch, 3/25/2017)

Yeah, whatever. That’s it. My itchy ear and leaking thoughts are going to disconnect for now so I can enjoy this foggy morning, and finish my little art project…

“The Adaptable Man” by Janet Frame

the adapable man

Humans are adaptable. It’s how we have survived—evolved, pretty much, for the most part, successfully, for now. Who knows how long we will last. It could go on for a long, long time, or all end badly, one big asteroid could screw us all—or just bomb the fuck out ourselves over disagreeable ideology shit. When it comes down to it—it doesn’t matter a hill of beans in this crazy world, universe, whatever, everything will go on with or without us.

But I digress just because of the times in which we live right now—which seems to reinvent itself with every generation.

Which brings us to the village of Little Burgelstatham (a burgel, a burial place for the heathen.) (p. 12) And what happens there—and the people who live there, it all starts with a senseless murder of Botti Julio, an Italian farm worker (and a survivor of a concentration camp) arrives in Little Burgelstatham one evening, on the way to the Sapley’s farm where he has a job picking black currents. He was found drowned in a pond the next morning… well, only the scarecrows saw what happened to Botti Julio. (Page 19.) His fate is ultimately blamed on the lack of electricity to light Murston Lane, the poor man couldn’t find his way in the dark, didn’t know there was a pond—he was a stranger, he was foreign, and his English wasn’t very good. What was officially determined to be an accident was actually a murder. But why was he murdered? Was it because he was a stranger? Or was there some other reason. Who killed him? Why? There are some who might ask: Why would the Sapley’s hire a man to come all the way from Italy to pick black currants for them, when there are perfectly capable people who live here who would be happy to do the job. This man died by the hand of another, Alwyn Maude (which isn’t a spoiler cuz it’s right on the back cover as the synopsis), a college student home for holiday. He gets away with it, and there is no justice served. He’s a real piece of work that one—argh! He “…has taken the first step toward being the truly Adaptable Man, a Child of His Time, by murdering someone whom he did not know, whom he had never seen in his life before, whom he neither loved nor hated, a man whose only qualification for being murdered was that he belonged to the human race.” ( from page 149) To kill someone just to do it, to know what it’s like to kill someone. “Alwyn is proud that he killed successfully…If Raskolnikov had lived now, Alwyn thinks, two pages rather than a novel would have been needed to describe his feelings after killing.” (p. 150)

It’s been awhile that a book made me flinch and squirm a bit. There’s some things I’m not going to cover here—I could go on a long rant about this asshole, but it wouldn’t be productive, so I won’t. If there’s anyone else out there that wants to take an intelligent and well researched psychoanalysis crack at it, be my guest. (Blargh!)

The ghostly memory of this man’s death lingers through the thoughts of the varied cast of characters, including Alwyn, he muses on page 113 I’m no Raskolnikov. It seems that some of the characters know or suspect who killed him, and/or may have witnessed the act, or just perceptive enough to put 2 + 2 together and think—hmmmm… (But don’t we all rather not think the worst of someone? Especially when they’re handsome and bright, and a family member?)

Botti Julio’s ghost lingers throughout the book, echoes of his learned phrases flit here and there just when you might have forgotten—What? You didn’t know this was a ghost story? In the traditional sense of a ghost story it wouldn’t be, but it is—on page 20 the ghost is first mentioned:

see—here, now, a ghost in our story…

Oh, a haunting we will go, a haunting we will go—Boo! Scream!  A haunting we will go! (A bit o’ silly business here, I had been tipping a little bit o’ our mead while Winter Storm Stella was raging outside so this might be a little more amusing or not…) Anyway, the ghost story purists won’t like it, but an author who ventures beyond the parameters of expectation is one after my heart, Janet Frame never disappoints me.

One of the many things I love about Janet Frame novels, they are more than they seem. On a whim one morning, I dug around the Internet to see if someone had written something interesting about her books (someone usually does) and I found an essay: An Other Form of Ghost Story by Josephine Carter (link at end). It’s a fascinating essay overall, but I only wish to quote from it here: “Critical of all state legitimized violence, Frame, a literary agitator, enacts a disruptive response: an unconventional ghost story which denies closure and the reestablishment of order.” The “spine tingling” in this “Other Form of Ghost Story” is not about the ghost jumping out, saying “boo!” to scare the jeepers-creepers out of a body to get revenge. It’s about the persistent sense of no reprieve, this man’s death will forever haunt Little Burgelstatham—even if it doesn’t create a guilty conscious for the arrogant jerk who did the deed—this man’s death lingers in the atmosphere because this sort of thing doesn’t happen around here. Sometimes it’s the uncommon occurrences that are the train wrecks that cause the rubberneck syndrome during the humdrum of the day-to-day routines. They’re uncomfortable and distressing events, no one wants to see it happen, hear about it, or experience it—but the hushed conversations and gasps of astonishment gets the old blood flowing and the sparks flying in our brains; the dark thoughts prevailing over the light.

 In my view of such things as the ghosts that haunt us, it’s more than the paranormal, it’s the history that the community itself lives with that haunts them. Their traditions, their way of living, doing, everything about them down to the clothes they wear and the food they eat, their routines in everyday life, the fields of barley and sugar beets. They are the Children of Their Time. The outside world is invading their homes through modern conveniences like electricity, the improvement of transportation by upgrading the roads. Early on in the novel (page 34), Bert Whattling, a 74 year old pensioner, riding his bicycle feels intimidated by the traffic— It was no help for Bert, facing the hazards of fifty yards of A-class road, to remember that he’d once been a soldier, in the First World War. Danger seemed not as simple as it used to be. I understand Bert completely. I’ll be 55 in May, and the world is changing faster than I can keep up. It pisses me off to no end.

 With electricity comes information and entertainment more readily available through television (again, Bert’s perspective later in the book, he laments on page 232 “A television breed!”

The final nail in the coffin of this small community comes in the form of the migration of people from London, “the Overspill.” Poor Bert, near the end of the book can’t even catch his breath in a favorite spot against the old Unwin family cottage wall facing the lilac hedge because the owner of the cottage has fenced it off, effectively barring him from settling himself down to take a load off after eating his lunch. Then on page 223, he suffers the indignity of the “television man from London” calling out to him “Whattling, here a minute!” Bert was always just Bert to those who knew him, and so… he [the television man from London] had committed the double crime of imagining that he already belonged to the village, and that he could speak to Bert as a master might speak to his slave.

(Sigh.) Take a breath, there’s more…

The Overspill is coming like a plague of locusts. This book is from 1965—the Baby Boomer generation (which I’m at the end-bookend of it, I’m like a hybrid with GenX) and the post-WWII life, a society in motion, and the mandated consequence branded as “The Overspill” of Londoners to the quiet little hamlets and villages in the countryside. The Overspill is otherwise known as Suburban Sprawl in America. I grew up in a neighborhood that was built in the 1950’s by some of the GI’s who came home from the war. The one story ranch houses were fitted into neat little sections, butted up against older homes that had once been the grand, fine homes from another time. Their original property lines cut, and cut again, parceled out, bit by bit, until it’s just an odd-shaped lot on which a rather large house lounges, the lone proud lion surrounded by domestic cats. My mother, who grew up in that small town, remembered our neighborhood as farmland, the street had once been a horse-drawn wagon track into the woods. The town was changing, the economy was changing, business that had once been the boom of the town was dying out with the slow demise of generations that had built it. The new generation commuted to The City to work. It was a nice town to raise a family. Through the 1970’s I watched out of the corner of my eye as the town evolved into something other than what it once was, the old homes themselves became parceled within into apartments, some neighborhoods that were once very nice, became rundown and sad. The once grand homes sagged and leaned, their facades furrowed with age. I moved to the city to go to college, and then started my family there, but later, we moved to the country to get away from the problems of the city, the crime, the filth, the schools. We followed our dreams to an old farmhouse on a piece of land, which was surrounded by fields being farmed by local people who were renting from the current owner. It was the classic fixer-upper. The land and house had once been part of the farm, subdivided, and sold off piecemeal. And now, twenty years later, the “overspill,” is happening, bordering on my backyard. There was a time when our house, before we owned it, was the only one on Irish Hill, but things change. People live and die, move on, adapt to do something else other than farming. Now our old farmhouse is the sore thumb compared to the newly built homes that arrived made to order, pre-fab, delivered on the back of trucks, each section pieced together. It’s a difficult transition getting used to their sounds, and their being there. Now we’re the oddity—we’re those people. I am irritated by the encroachment, we were here first—with that said, I felt sympathy for the residents of Little Burgelstatham—they’re becoming the ghosts of a time and way of life fading fast.

(From page 224) An exciting, controversial talking-point, but not nearly so enjoyable now that the idea was becoming a frightful reality… “Overspill. Overspill.”

  Such a strange word to choose. Didn’t something that spilled, spill over also? Or were they using “overspill” to try to explain that once the people of London began coming to East Anglia nothing could stop them, there’d never be an end of their spilling, as there’d never be an end of people from London…and all over the new words that motorways brought with them—“bypass,” “flyover,” “flyunder.” …

(From page 232) Rumors became the tall stories of the hour. “They” were going to pull down all the farm workers’ cottages. “They” would build Council flats in the barley fields, offices with luxury penthouses (for directors) in the sugar-beet fields. If your cottage was not pulled down, then it would be taken under the Compulsory Purchase Order to make room for a motorway. Noise, smoke, smell, crime, no jobs, and a race of strangers who laughed at your dialect and your customs and your clothes and your ignorance of the great world; a nasty television breed.

(From page 234) The town planner, in the deep chair by the fire, put down his glass and turned to his companion, a London architect.

 “See what we’ll have to meet?” he said. “They’re a different race. Talk about New Town loneliness! That reminds me—there’s that competition to name the new town. The psychologists say it should be held locally—you know, let the natives feel they have a share in the project. It pays dividends, overcomes hostility.”

 “Wouldn’t you be hostile?”

 “I’d shoot the invaders as if they were so many wood pigeons. So be careful. We’re in a foreign land here.”

 “Should we try to fraternize?”

 “Hell no, not more than usual. Just don’t make the mistake of pointing out a wheat field and exclaiming in your educated accent, ‘What magnificent barley!’”

Infuriating isn’t it? You bet she meant it. This book is quite deliberate with its message—being adaptable. Each character adapts to something in spite of the unpleasant circumstances they find themselves in—some very strange and some very familiar. There is no need to scratch too deep into their surface to find the itch they worry over, the weather, the overspill, longing for something lost, and the lingering ghost of Botti Julio. “These photographs are underexposed. Please will you intensify them.”

I love Janet Frame’s work because there’s so much more below the surface of the story—it’s more than a story. I “get her.” She’s not an easy read, she presents readers with puzzles and scatters the pieces for us to fit together—I take my time, examine the bits—ooo and ahh over their intricate plots, and dog-ear the pages, and if I have a pencil handy, I make notes, underline, re-read.  Just picking it up to write this I catch myself immersing already, I have a hard time putting it down.

Carter, Josephine. An Other Form of Ghost Story: Janet Frame’s “The Adaptable Man,” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 13, no. 1/2 (2011): 45-60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41328511.

Kay Ryan, Strangely Marked Metal

Kay Ryan Strangely Marked Metal

It’s safe to say I read the spots off of this one…it seems I’ve been selecting books (lately) that have hit too close to home in my mind. Strangely Marked Metal is one of many that have got me thinkin’…a lot. Goodness knows, I think enough, a mental traveler far and wide, but sometimes I need a little direction, and books often cure what ails my wanderings.

In particular, The Admirable Bede. 7th Century English Historian was a timely treat. Here’s a bit of it about halfway through…

Every century and fraction/ of century is disheartened; part of every home/ and monastery is turned against itself;/each man has something withered/ or a misplaced tooth or an eye that wanders;/ each soul its own barbarian bent on plunder -/ call it Machiavelli; give him history,/ let him march through the city,/ let him name the streets and currency, let/ everyone bow down before his own worst possibility/ manifest; there will be the other part of the city- / like the flower which thrives on neglect, or/ the grace by which monuments slide down to stacks/ upon which some shepherd sits, half loving,/ half hating his life, drawing his flute/ out of his sleeve, one eye on the clouds/ one eye on the sheep.

Timeless, timely. I keep revisiting so much of this little book that its nigh dogeared to death, it’s tiny spine creased. Wisdom and whimsy. A human document.

Although I’ve marked as “finished” on GoodReads, I’m not finished, yet.

I love it.

The end of an era…Crouching Tigger-Hidden Pooh, 1998-2017

Tiggy Pooh 9 24 2016

My very old, very dear friend, Crouching Tigger-Hidden Pooh (Tiggy-Pooh or other variations for short) passed away on March 5th. I’ve been slammed again by another loss. Dang, I don’t mean to turn this blog into a notice board about the passing of aging pets, but it’s life, it’s what is going on in mine at the moment. I’m sad, yes, very much so. He is the last of the litter of 1998, the last of the fondly dubbed “Horrible Horde.”

(*Between 1997 and 1998 the feral cat population that invaded our property exploded to around thirty cats- yup, 3 -0, 30. Not our choice, it’s the hazard of living in the country, people see a barn and think it’s a good place to leave off their unwanted cat. It took many weeks of capturing, taming, spaying, and neutering to get it under control.)

Anyway, back to Pooh. Oh my sweet kitty boy, I immortalized him briefly as Samantha Ryder’s kitty in The Fractured Hues of White Light. I tend to do that (because I can.) Life without Pooh feels hollow. I feel like I have forgotten to do something, and then remember why. I’m not forgetting, I’m missing an activity, a worry, a routine. I have nursed this little kitty for about a year or so, thinking for so long, “he’s going to go any day now.” Now has come. Now that he’s gone it’s weird how it feels like relief. Pooh hasn’t been Pooh for a long time, we’ve missed him before he died.

I cried more on Saturday before he died, than on Sunday after he died. I knew when I went to bed around 1AM Sunday morning that he might not be with us by dawn. I held his little paws, they were toasty warm, he was snug as a bug, the wood stove keeping things comfortable, his buddy, Charlie curled next to him. His little toes curled around my finger. I kissed him goodnight and told him that it was okay, he could go, we’ll meet again some day. I told him I loved him, and turned out the lights.

He went peacefully on his own terms during the wee hours. We buried him on Tuesday when we had a thaw and my Fred could dig a hole. He’s buried beside his brothers Willy Big and Fatty Woo Hobbes.DSCF0961

I miss these old boys. They were the best of the litters of 1997 and 1998. They’re all gone. I still have four boys, all drop off misfits that found their way to a safe haven. I’m in the process of befriending a kitty we’ve dubbed “Bigfoot” because we’d see tracks, but no cat. This has been going on for about a year or so, she’s finally trusting us enough to allow herself to be seen. I swear there’s a sign outside our house, invisible to us humans, but visible to cats, it reads: “Nice people live here!” or maybe it says “SUCKERS!” Your guess is as good as mine.

It’s snowing and bitter cold out there today. Charlie is curled on the bed beside the wood stove, alone. No wait…the Little Monster is with him.

I do believe that our loved ones are always there, inside of us as well as beyond our vision. They’re those visitors seen out of the corner of one’s eye, a slight breath of wind tumbling through one’s hands, pouncing, or brushing up against one’s leg.