Summer at the shore

Summer at the shore


The days leading up to Memorial Day weekend have a certain charge in a sleepy seashore town that lends any extraneous tourists like myself irrelevant, and beside the point, and almost tiresome because at any moment, the real guests will arrive, and for now they must endure us, like we once endured the great aunts at our graduation party before heading out to join friends around a bonfire.

Conversely, copious amounts of attention are given to the outliers like myself due to the high ratio of not only management but owners ready and waiting for the great explosion of humanity and cash flow. (God, let there be sun!)

Despite the empty establishments, there is an odd urgency in the air, like animals before a storm, so overcharged are they all in expectation, an energy which they disperse on unsuspecting guests as if to demonstrate in self-congratulatory fashion how much even the highest ranking member cares about the extraneous customer:

“How is everything? Do you need anything? Are you enjoying everything?”

By the time I leave my quiet window seat, I am exhausted, and they are relieved to be free of me, free of the saccharin attention one must muster for young children while facing a deadline.

Now to the real work—the menu updates, the food orders, the outdoor chairs and tables, the screens, the fresh paint (will it dry in time!), the last minute hiring for the kitchen, the patio stones that were supposed to be in place weeks ago but now require the unlikely effort of owners and both the day and night managers as well as the new dishwasher who doesn’t speak much English, but who seems willing to please for $11 an hour. (An amount that will never cover rent, let alone groceries, or medical care.)

Overall, the staff cannot wait for summer to be underway to be free of the managers (soon to be distracted by bank deposits), while the managers can’t wait to be free of the owners (soon to be spending said bank deposits.)

While even the well seasoned servers who typically play their roles effortlessly, fumble with extra steps, bumping into each other in the empty space, while their brains reboot patterns long dormant through winter, as ancient frustrations arise without any effort at all—that old bar broom with the bent bristles, the trash can whose bags fit almost perfectly, the teacups that must be wiped before use because the owner insists on a charming display.

But in 72, 48, 24 hours… the New Year rings in… and everyone–the dishwasher, the server, the manager, the owner, the tourist–becomes a teenager again.

SUMMER.

Advertisements
NYC

NYC

New Yorkers are brusque, broody, as if they all have agreed that no one will be happy
And this gives a certain tilt to the island, all the while New Yorkers are oddly compliant, say about moving through a subway station, and also helpful if you ask, and often earnest.

I almost lived among them once when I was just out of college
until I learned that my friend’s apartment was on the 37th floor
and that’s too far away from the earth for me,
and so head hung low,
I returned to the shore,
and promptly had my heart skewered
which primed it for falling in love with Casey,
and losing a baby
and moving to Vermont…

But I would’ve liked to have gotten to know New Yorkers more.

Maybe someday I’ll learn to live apart from the ground.

On Returning…

On Returning…


Though our dream to move to the mountains took shape 25 years ago this spring (after we lost the baby), we continue to return to the sea at least once a year, and back in those early years, we returned every season.

And although these Green Mountains are where we belong, the return is always a homecoming, not only to the place where our love took root more than 3 decades ago, but to his people, and especially my people, because there are so many of us, and because we go back so many generations, and to the sea and the sand and the land itself.

With so many touchstones, each visit is like a putting together a thousand-piece puzzle, and over time, I’ve begun to play with it ahead of the return so that I might be more present once there, particularly as our time there continues to shrink while our family there continues to expand.

And so it is that this week brings the maddening/thrilling algebraic acrobatics of making connections and plans with 6 different siblings & their kids (some grown and on their own) and with what remains of 3 sets of parents, and also a stepgrandmother & her fiance, a great aunt & her son, dozens of cousins, aunts & uncles, a friend or two, and once in blue moon if we’re especially lucky–a beloved colleague.

Sometimes I forget an entire branch of our lives.

Sometimes I get so aborbed by balancing the equation that I miss the sweetness of the faces and the sea and the memory space of home.

Increasingly so, I take time apart from it all, simply to steep in place, alone, and instead of telling myself that I am not enough, that the time we spend is not enough, that the visit is too cumbersome, too far, too much, I let another voice in… the one that says that the Return is sacred, and as such things will fall into place (like running into a cousin’s family at the ice cream parlor, or old friends at a distant relative’s funeral), while simultaneously letting so. much. go. like we once did, 25 years ago, heartbroken, leaving the sea to make a new home of our own.

Sunrise People

Sunrise People

In a shore town, teeming with strangers, I walk toward the beach at sunrise, surprised to find that whether–silver-haired, riding rental bikes; or fit and 40 squeezing in a run; or young and tatooed, spitting on the curb outside an apartment building–each, in the hush before the day begins, offers me: Good Morning.

On The Pulse Of Morning
Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
It says come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sang and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Maya Angelou

Vacation, 2:30 am

Vacation, 2:30 am

IMG_4489

What about all those times when any kind of bed would have been a welcome relief:

…that night on the park bench in Pamplona
…the bucket seat on the ferry crossing from Ireland
…the overcrowded train car from Milano to Switzerland

But I had slept at least some on each of those nights without the pressure points of this deck-of-cards body; and there had been nights, like this one, with a bed, even at 20, when I couldn’t sleep…

… the Shrimp Diablo
…that night in Nice
…the mornings after cheating

And now the second margarita instead of supper at Happy Hour.

There are children
Without beds
With aching stomachs.

There are the ill and the aged and the terrorized.

Who am I to claim deprivation?

What of nursing mothers, teething toddlers, and the dying–and those tending them.

I should have had some dinner.
I should have skipped the indulgence of a second cocktail.

Should I have stayed home?
Never left the comfort of my bed?

Instead of writing now, at 2:30 am, with a view of the lighthouse, on a island across Saco Bay?

~

Sometimes I can’t bear the pain that lies ahead
So exquisite is the joy I’ve known.

~

I began writing at 18 to feel less alone.
I began offering my work at 36 so that others might feel less alone.

~

I am lying awake on a tiny strip of land beside the sea.
Who are these people in the passing cars and where are they going at 3:30 am?

~

I’ll close with  a poem for all those who are still awake.

The Sleepless Ones

What if all the people
who could not sleep
at two or three or four
in the morning
left their houses
and went to the parks
what if hundreds, thousands,
millions
went in their solitude
like a stream
and each told their story
what if there were
old women
fearful if they slept
they would die
and young women
unable to conceive
and husbands
having affairs
and children
fearful of failing
and fathers
worried about paying bills
and men
having business troubles
and women unlucky in love
and those that were in physical
pain
and those who were guilty
what if they all left their houses
like a stream
and the moon
illuminated their way and
they came, each one
to tell their stories
would these be the more troubled
of humanity
or would these be
the more passionate of this world
or those who need to create to live
or would these be
the lonely
ones
and I ask you
if they all came to the parks
at night
and told their stories
would the sun on rising
be more radiant and
again I ask you
would they embrace

~ Lawrence Tirnauer

(note: I first heard this poem read by author Dani Shapiro in her workshop, The Stories We Carry.)

Spring in Manhattan (& Marlboro)

Spring in Manhattan (& Marlboro)

Connie Crosson (2015, Kelly Salasin)
My colleague & friend Connie Crosson (2015, Kelly Salasin)

I first met Connie in Chile at an international conference for the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living. Geographically speaking, Connie and I were neighbors, but the lifestyles and topography of Manhattan and Marlboro were worlds apart–her island that never sleeps meets my mountain town and dirt roads without a traffic light in sight.

Santiago is where the conference took place. It was 2011. I was the Assistant to the Director of Federation EIL. Connie served as our United Nations representative. This immediately lent her my affection. (I’d had a thing for the UN since I was a kid.)

Connie didn’t make it to the conference the following year in Japan or to the one after that in Vermont, and I didn’t make it to Ireland, and neither of us was in New Zealand, but our friendship, seeded in Santiago, deepened into a seasonal rhythm that presenced itself each March around the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW.)

“Expect chaos,” Connie wrote, when I first inquired about how to navigate the event.

Thousands of NGO representatives–mostly women–from around the world convened each year at the United Nations; which I found so thrilling, that I kept returning. Each time Connie encouraged me and we shaped plans to get together.

That first year, we met up between meetings, and later in the week for lunch, and on the last evening, Connie invited all the representatives from our organization to her home in the Upper West. She cooked. We brought salads and desserts and wine.

This ritual of connection continued year after year. One March, Connie and I caught up for lunch at the American Wing at the MET. Another time at Pain Le Quotodien on 2nd Avenue; while last year, a bunch of us gathered back at her home for dinner after the day’s events. Connie cooked then too. We provided the accessories again. Everyone stayed late into the night.

Our last time together. March 2015.
Our last time together. March 2015.

In the kitchen, Connie told me that she hadn’t made it to any of the meetings; that she’d been at the doctor’s. She shook her head as if to say: Things don’t look so good. I hugged her more earnestly that night.

When I returned to New York a year later for the 60th Commission on the Status of Women, I saw Connie everywhere. In the park. At the MET. At Pain Le Quotodien. At the United Nations. At the Church Center across the street.

I’ve been home from the city for about a week, settling back into the rhythms of my dirt road, and now is about the time when she and I would exchange a volley of emails about the results of the Commission–where there was hope and where there was frustration–and Connie would invariably include a photo or two of spring in New York… a flowering tree perhaps, or a set of bulbs pushing through the ground in Central Park–to serve as an encouragement–to both of us–at the end of a long, cold winter.

This year, spring has come early to both Manhattan and Marlboro.

Look Connie… even in my backyard…
IMG_2656

A former member of the US Committee for UNICEF, Connie Crosson served as the UN Representative for The Federation of the Experiment in International Living from 2008 until her death in 2015.  Connie was a graduate of the School for International Training (SIT) at World Learning, a mother of an Experimenter to Germany, a host for many other Experimenters from around the world, and the director of a management training and consulting firm for nonprofit organizations.