Unless you’ve lived in a four seasons city, you just can’t understand how transformational and redivivus the vernal expectation of spring. My mind feels like someone has loosened the screws, and a willowy feeling fills the body so when I walk my steps waver, without any alcohol. This spring is like a substance prescription after one of the gloomiest winters of my life.
ADVENTURES IN LIVINGNESS- Without argument what motivates the locals in Ballston Spa, NY is family. They go to work every day, some in punishing freezing cold weather to earn a living. The snow blowers, plowers, farmers, horse breeders, deliveries, construction workers, postal workers, cable servers, and weather free runners.
The families then gather on the weekend at any of our a dozen bakeries, cafes, restaurants, and bars to sit with the family, drink a beer or mimosa and watch the seasonal sports channel. Children are well behaved mostly, the server is probably related in two degrees of separation, so the expansive informality presides. The pretense is nine miles north in Saratoga Springs. Very minor, compared to Los Angeles, and I love that about Saratoga. They have an A-List too, mostly connected to racehorses or real estate. They aspire to win the Kentucky Derby or buy land to develop a dream community. Traditional and progressive. The generations of Saratoga go back to the eighteen hundreds. I’ve met residents who are the fifth generation, and they are proud to tell you. That stands out for a gal from LA that moved to Ballston Spa.
Back in Ballston Spa on a milky white sky day, that feels too cold indoors. I’m wearing layers; T-shirt, a thick zip-up sweatshirt, and the Irish wool Jumper I bought in Ireland in 1987. The weather channel claims it is forty-seven degrees, so I’m miffed why I’m so cold.
This week was waiting until my brain was ready to take on the challenge of the moment; coronavirus 19. I’m a failed student of statistics, charts, science, physiology, and models. When the task force takes the stage every day, to update us on the number of cases and deaths my brain struggles with the information, as I am awed by the concentration of facts, projections, and federal coordination. It shed light on how microscopic my responsibilities are in comparison.
Living in upstate Saratoga County, New York we were on lockdown early in the game. The sacrifice isn’t as disarming for me because my personal crisis hasn’t fused with social gatherings, for the last fifteen months. In life, we all have our crisis, it is just better if I’m not in a crowd. So I limited myself to the essentials with an occasional visit to a pastry shop or bistro. Adaptation to quarantine if you are living alone is agonizing and so we have to structure our misery or it will structure us.
Bonded in solitude allows us time to reflect on our relationships, our mistakes and what we miss most in this time of quarantine. This may be the only time we will ever have to examine who we are and what we need to change. If you watch the news, you hear the stories of the first responders, and all the essential workers who risk their own lives to bus us, feed us and deliver our Amazon packages. My mirror of reflection brought the reality of singleness into focus, it is time to trust, love, and to socialize. As Joni Mitchel sings, “ You don’t know what you have till it’s gone.”
If we ignore the war in our lives, the war comes after you.
Thirty degrees doesn’t feel like it did last year. Adventures in livingness in the village, where I am walking, eating, going to the Post Office, stopping into to chat rap with Blossom, and withholding the urge to step into an antique shop. The thing is, I hadn’t planned on living here a year, so when plans are hijacked, we have to adapt. It feels like maturity has surfaced.
Thinking slips into different chambers; health reminders that I am not forty, finances have been a struggle since I left home, appearance, brown spots on my legs and these cancer sprouts, comfort, to be adaptable to any circumstances that manifest. Once you adapt to the unpleasantries, I think it becomes easier. Then it is possible to empty the closet of youthful memories and replace them with whatever gives you peace of mind.
Jim Marshall- credit. I didn’t sell this one, one of five favorites.
How to describe the sense of protection and security that frees the mind to create and celebrate new challenges, so different now. How short-sided to not know when I had it. Sometimes it feels like my brain is rattling, under siege by these opposing forces, one wants to dance and be in a crowded club, the other wants to make chicken soup, write, recheck my immediate business and watch Butterfield 8. I wish these two characters would merge into one!
This stranger to me, trying to be practical, prudent, safe, and boring is my opposite. We all have some duality. Subtle flips in habitat, the way I would wake early and feel eager to meet the new vacation renters or gallery clients. Sleeping past seven wasn’t of interest to me, I was an early riser because I had so much to accomplish. I do not expose myself verbally or physically in public (LOL) do not forget to turn off the burners, candles, or lock the doors. Do talk to strangers because they may know something I need to hear. Do not sneer at what advantages others have, in envy. I could go on but it’s time to prepare dinner. Sunday dinner, even alone is my time to cook as if it’s for two. What is more crucial to our happiness, than the turntable of our moods…we control the needle.
People here seem to be a bit suspicious, or maybe just curious why I never married and had children, everyone my age has grandchildren. When I was forty, I said I’m not ready, at fifty, they didn’t ask much, then in the sixties, they ask. Not always verbally, I see it the expression, a slightly raised brow, a lip twitch. How I answer now is,’ its a long story.’ Then, if I’m asked to tell the story I start talking as if I’d known them years. I lose them after the last few year’s misadventures. It doesn’t disturb me because I completely understand. I used to be judgmental about people who lost their track, who ended up broke, who had severe misfortune. Shamefully, I didn’t think it could happen to me. Lying seems to be very hip and acceptable these days. Maybe I’ll fictionize the whole last three years.
Now for the first time, this last year, I’ve noticed the bed crushed in pillows and wooly throws feel way to peaceful to leave. As soon as I am dressed the work begins, and just this week I’ve completed the list I’d made when I was in Los Angeles a year and a half ago, honest. The last entry is crossed off.
The new list, all transformative channels; I’m selling my grand Victorian here in Ballston Spa. I’ve owned her for twenty years. I haven’t lived here since 2004, and my last visit was in 2012. She needs a facelift and botox. Once she sells, my suitcases and boxes will need a new address. This channel is snow, like on the television when its blinked out. Where that address will be is unknown. A troubling disturbance that nudges me all day and night. I search the internet, best cities to retire, best beaches, then I end up in Dublin one night reading an expatriate’s travel log online. Without a lover, best friend, husband, male, I am pandemonium, distracted, and insanely unnerving with my sense of direction. When he says ‘everything will be all right’ I calm down from whatever adventure lopsided.
The sale of Follies House will mean more than selling, it will force me to carve out a new vocation because my rentals were my income. Browsing job websites is an alarming epiphany. I don’t understand the qualifications, unknown coded programs, and applications. Even art galleries use social media formats to sell online. How can you buy a photograph or painting in virtual reality? Being self-employed for so many years doesn’t qualify.
Writing is not like running water anymore. I’m second-guessing, straining for clarity and topics that matter to my followers and new readers. Peace of mind squelches insecurity and self-doubt, at least in my adventures in livingness.
Today, the street view of stark-naked trees and branches seemed to happen overnight. Buckets of fallen autumn leaves paint the lawns and while all the neighbors are fastidiously blowing, raking and wrapping up for the city to pick up. The day I set out to rake and sweep the sun was tucked into a ravishing blue sky, almost like Santa Fe. Ten minutes into my amateur leaf raking skills the wind picked up and blew the leaves air-borne. Preparing for the unexpected is the staple that glues sanity here.
Finer details are the urns and pots of mums on every porch. If feels almost obligatory, so I joined in and placed mums in my planters. Now, a week later, snow is smothering the lawns, neighbors’ chimneys spew smoke, and the village is sparsely populated. It’s redundant to even talk about the temperature when you’re in a conversation, it is relevant to talk about the snow, and how many inches are forecast. I refrain from checking the weather so the first morning I woke to powdered sugar-coated trees and streets, it was a cinematic surprise.
This year, I am adjusted to the weather, how to dress, and to create an indoor sanctuary so there is enough art, books, food, and music to accessorize the glim grey skies. Adventures in livingness in a northeastern village in upstate New York reckons with my city upbring in LA. I live amongst blue-collar workers, resilient, tolerant, unpretentious. No movie stars here. Hard cored tough New Yorkers. No BS in Ballston Spa.
THE LAWN MOWERS.
I READ THAT GRASS GROWS AN INCH A WEEK IN THE NORTHEAST and so the neighbors mow once a week. Then they edge, weed wack, then they blow. Some are more finicky than others, I can see them from my bedroom window. Some wear expressions of an artist, intensely serious and meticulous, others mow in business suits on motorized stand-up mowers, and some mow with a visible resentment, an overly redundant but necessary chore in the Northeast.
I don’t mow, I hired a couple, Matt and Jessica. Matt mows with his legs wide apart, no gloves or sunglasses, no earplugs, and Jessica blows. She wears the blower mechanism on her back, her long tanned naturally sculpted arms maneuvering as if she was vacuuming the living room rug. I wait until they have almost finished to greet them on the porch.
” Life sucks,” Matt calls out to me with the motor still running.
” Yes, it does. What’s happened?”
” My daughter got into a car accident on prom night, seven thousand dollars later. He wipes his forehead of sweat.”
” Is she alright?”
“Another driver crashed into them. How’s it look, nice right?”
I invited them into the house, for a look at the furnishings I’m selling.”
” Wow, you love music and vinyl! I do too. Is that Mick Jagger in the photograph?”
I took that on to ruminate about my former Santa Fe Gallery of the music photography of the sixties, the Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Beatles, and as soon as my boasting sounded halfway boring, I shut up. I really don’t think my past is important to anyone but me unless they are photographers. I used to sneer at people who only talked about what they used to do. How life revisits you at sixty-something when the bragging projects have ceased.
” You own the house?”
” Half owner?”
” Where’s your other half?”
” Missing in action. It’s all up to me now.”
” That sucks. Listen, if you ever need advice about the Northeast, call me– I know everyone. You lived in Santa Fe right?”
” Yes, eleven years.”
” I hear it’s beautiful.”
” Well, it is, and it was, but I’m here now.”
” You going back? I mean why the hell stay here?”
” Maybe? I just don’t know.” Jessica tilted her head as women do when they see a falling sister.
” Okay, I like you, you’re a nice lady. We’re friends now.”
” Are we good enough friends that I postdate the check for three days?”
” Hell yes! I don’t need the money. Don’t even worry.” I walked into the music room and picked up a double album of Janis, still in the cover.
” You like Janis?”
They both said oh my God I love her. I gave them the album. That’s what friends do, reciprocate.
Matt and Jessica come every two or three weeks because I love grass. The wind blows it, the curve of it when it bends, just like I love long hair. One time I greeted them in my interview outfit, you know, buttons and high heels. Matt said something like, “Lose the scarf and fit in, or they will charge you double.”
If I knew how to manage the Northeast weather, sensibility and had a big family, I’d adopt a cat and get a New York drivers license.
A metallic sky is blowing the cotton ball clouds with the force of a lawn blower, a collage of sunflower leaves brush beauty in the windows of my home, and the act of observation becomes my pastime, here in the Northeast.
When I used to sit on the stoop in front of my Westwood studio, it was the dogwalkers and gardeners, visitors and residents that my eyes laid on, with a backdrop of high rise two million dollar condominiums, with concrete terraces, usually vacant, that formed the view and from that, thoughts randomly trapped, wish I owned that, wish I had that car, wish I had that man. It is amusing, how one’s view can determine one’s thoughts.
West Los Angeles.
On the street where I live now, homes are two hundred years old, or newly built to imitate the Victorian era. The automobile is sturdy, practical, and unwaxed. The way of this wonderment brings simplicity into my life. No need to dress up and fit in, it’s the opposite here, dress down to fit in, or like me, a combination. You are not watched, observed, questioned or complimented, because, well I don’t know the answer, not yet. This is the day after a storm. Half of a tree collapsed in my front yard.
The Polar Freeze had to arrive with me, and the test was not so much about the snow outdoors, it was how to stay warm indoors without running up my gas bill to five hundred a month. Luckily, I found my Irish wool sweater in the basement, that is so large I can wear three sweaters under it, then the leggings, knee-high woolen socks, hats, and gloves even indoors. My activity was limited to bringing the furniture from the attic, basement and unloading the UBox from Los Angeles. Boxes of books and china, photographs, records, and bric a brack from so much antiquing. Three months later the house was staged. I was left with a fractured elbow, but the scenery indoors plays a critical part in your emotional health, because it is too cold to play outdoors.
Most of my conversations came in Nomads, where I’d have a Cortado and some eggs, and talk with the owners who were also my tenants. I begged myself to interview them properly with a recorder, but I never did. They astounded my fictional idea of a millennial, not being general but based on what I observed in Los Angeles. In LA they don’t talk to adults unless you have a common bond; a tattoo or a protest sign. Nick and Alex have the play stations, all the tech knowledge of a Microsoft department, but, instead, they talked about literature, foreign films, and psychology. These are my subjects so if we began the conversation at eleven am, we finished at noon, minus the interruption of a customer. Many times, I’d ask for an explanation, and they’d answer without snickering or amusement. I recall one time I asked, ” Don’t you get tired of hearing adults say, you’ll understand when you get older (they are both nineteen years old) and Nick answered within a second, ‘No, because I know a lot they don’t. ‘Don’t forget I used the internet when I was five years old.’
The customers, mostly local residents, come solo or in large groups, families with toddlers, mothers and daughters, uncles, and nephews, everyone here that I met has a huge amount of family, which caused me some hesitation when asked, ‘you have family here, don’t you?’ After that question dozens of times, I thought maybe I should make one up. I’m not and never have been a believable liar.
The volume of their voices is another adjustment, not in a bad way, just a curiosity, they do not contain their vocal strength. Maybe it is a part of the heritage, just the New York way of conversing, but it is self-effacing genuine. I never detected a play on pretense or arrogance. Imagine how refreshing, like a gulp of spring water from a waterfall, after the playacting that overrides conversation in Los Angeles. To be continued.