Thursday, November 25, 2010

This is thanksgiving...

Yesterday I phoned a friend. I'd forgotten her birthday even though I bought the present in the summer, thinking that I'd finally do what she does -- pick something up when I see it, not wait until it's needed. But even with the paper bag sitting on a shelf, I forgot to wrap and mail it. (Why is wrapping a package so time consuming? So easy to forget about?) 

What, as we joked, is time? It's hard to accept that I can't walk back into that tenement on 5th Street, next to the bodega, upstairs and into that large, roach infested, rent-controlled apartment where Krissy would still be a kid and I'd be scrabbling to raise her. Why is that gone when it's so clear in my mind? 

How, as my friend said, could the 20th century be over? Why is it 2010? November? It moves fast and we are, as we both said, lucky to be here -- alive.  

Though I have a couple of older women friends who have great prestige and financial assets, that wasn't expected of my generation. I keep forgetting that fact when I compare myself and come up wanting. Suggestions for career choices weren't easily available, the skills needed for advancement weren't easily discovered, the role models were men and there was a considerable stigma against women in various fields. In 1974, I was the first woman to teach in the photo department at MIT, a dubious distinction that I hardly was equipped to handle.

She and I have done well considering where we started in New York, the late sixties and early seventies. I relentlessly imagine that the childhood experiences that have haunted me is a reason for what I consider to be my short comings Her early life was more stable, but then again, she's always been more practical, detail oriented, an enormously hard worker. Whatever way you slice it, we've both taken similar paths and ended up in similar circumstances -- retired! Her university demanded far more committee work than mine did for studio faculty, so I always thought she worked far harder, longer hours, more reports. I imagine she enjoys retirement more than I do. My job wasn't nearly as stressful so I'm actually sorry that I retired. Maybe I worry more about money than she does. Or maybe we worry about different things. 

We laughed a lot, answering the same questions we always ask each other. Have you made a big pot of soup yet? (I left my soup pot at a 4th of July gathering two years ago and still haven't retrieved it or bought one. Her's is pretty well worn down and she needs to buy a new one. It's been warm, so she hasn't started her winter food plan. I have, though mine is a crock pot full of sweet potatoes and butternut squash. She's never used a crock pot.) Are you doing your exercises? (She is. I'm not. ) How are the kids? (Blah and blah and blah.) 

I was dry-running a pumpkin pie and she was cooking cranberries, the only time we'd both be caught in the kitchen, Thanksgiving. It was enormously comforting to have this long talk while my pie baked -- almost half an hour longer than the recipe called for. Is there something wrong with my stove? Was it because the pie crust was store bought and frozen? Should I have baked it first? I almost called her back to ask advice, since she's a better cook than I am. But I didn't.

 happy thanksgiving...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That was last week

and hopefully it's over! 
This image is my attempt to capture the soul of a cat whose only desire is to be loved. I was visiting a friend in Maine who had just had her third operation in the last year, a hip replacement,  and needs one more on her knee. Even with that level of pain and using a walker, she still walked faster than I do, though I could have covered more ground.
It was a great pleasure to give her husband a day off so he could do work in the woods and to hang around with her and this cat.
Since I came back, I'm trying to walk more, having again learned that lesson about how important daily exercise is. I joined a local ten dollar gym last month and haven't walked on the treadmill once. I think about going there almost every day, but...

So, I managed that visit nicely, even though I'm not a good traveler. (I got driven up, picked up, what's the fuss, body?)
But for some reason, my body decided to hate me last week starting Tuesday morning and not letting up until Thursday morning (after much Tylenol which usually doesn't work all that well.)
I taught on Tuesday....not too easy since I felt squished. And then on Wednesday, walked with Margaret (who has lived just two blocks away for all these years -- what an asset she would have been since she's marvelously connected with interesting things going on in Chelsea. And, after my first attempt to connect myself, I gave up and just used my tiny two-family as a place to drive away from and back to. At any rate, I've finally met her and am, therefore, more connected to the garden community) to Chelsea Cable TV where we were supposed to talk for five minutes on an English/Spanish program -- about the garden show at the Gallery at the Chelsea City Cafe.
For some reason I don't understand, I couldn't think of a thing to say when the first question was addressed to me. All I could do was turn my head to Margaret, look pathetic and wait until she answered.
I imagined that I can carry anything off, even being on a local TV, something I've not done before, but what the hell happened? How hard could that be?
Why did words allude me?
I sat there and held up photographs.

 After that we walked to Dunkin' Donuts....where I begged (asked, but it felt like begging since I couldn't imagine getting to our next appointment at the Senior Citizen Center a block away) her to carry my bag (hardly that heavy, though I felt it weighed sixty pounds) and she told me about a group that has met at the Center for twenty years, making quilts. These women are getting pretty old, but still meeting faithfully once a week.

Of course I had recovered momentarily, had enough energy to ask the Center Director if I might do a video about that quilt making group. We were there to talk about a garden project starting in May which would involved a small group of seniors if the grant that Margaret spent so much time writing a few weeks ago. It would be a good project, building more high beds in the garden and providing transportation for a group of seniors to shared those spaces. I would do videos (small shows for the Chelsea Cable TV) and photograph them over the season....
 But I didn't get much better until Thursday morning, in time for my appointment with my marvelous dental hygienist to talk about what's to be done with one seriously problematic tooth (there are two others that need new crowns, only a few thousand dollars) that will cost between 5 and 7 thousand. We're laughing (though I was hardly in a mood to laugh) because I mentioned taking photographs through whatever ghastly process has to be done...and as soon as I said that, I reminded myself that I wasn't taking photographs of that easy water-pic procedure.

So, this is an instance of photography making me laugh....

I like Lyn a lot, but I HATE TEETH. I hate how much mine have cost over the years, how much trouble they've been, how uneven and homely they are. Oh, I wish florid (spelling?) had been invented earlier...much as I hate the thought of adding even more chemicals to the environment.
 Friday I visited my friends Warren and L. (I use L because she's far more private than I am and would probably hate to be paraded around in my blog, much as I have adored her as my ONLY friend here in Chelsea. We met in a taxi fifteen or sixteen years ago -- riding to the airport where I was, with great trepidation, anxiety and Valium, going to visit my daughter in L.A. and she was pulling one of her great pranks by having a ticket in her bag, even though she was ostensibly only seeing her daughter off.

Warren was my book supplier while I was on the island of bed for so long. I almost never read anything except the New Yorker, but for whatever reasons, I was capable of reading, having been slowed down enough to accept that as an interesting option to doing nothing.

Warren sheepishly handed me a tiny piece of paper which I have unfortunately lost so I can't quote neat pencil script, he'd written the difference between muscular and mussels... not having wanted to correct me on my blog...

I hereby give him permission to write corrections~~

Oh, man, am I aware of my spelling problems. I've often had to think of a different way of expressing an idea when I ran into a serious spelling mystery.  I am minimally dyslexic, but hardly enough to cause problems and I know my spelling is atrocious. (Is it allude or illude?)
I've been photographing's the view from Warren's office on the third floor of their house.

So, that week's over!
And yesterday, Monday, I actually felt good, like a real person.
With fibromyalgia, that's unusual.
I usually feel good enough, not so rotten that I have to ask someone to carry my purse, but good enough. Not as if my body has declared major hatred on me.
I'm glad that week's over.
And that I'm back to blogging.
I assume that I will soon get back to reading blogs.
In the meantime, my apologies.

The only problem I anticipate now is the gloom that overtakes me starting on Thanksgiving. It attacks my half-brother, also, even though he essentially had an entirely different childhood since he's sixteen years older. I have to call him today or tomorrow so we can briefly commiserate before Thursday.
So, my sympathies are with those of you who get the holiday horrors.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


On Tuesday a student brought in some remarkable/beautiful/surprising new images....double exposures, black and white, printed well on good digital paper, square photos with a narrow black matte. I certainly expected that his work would be good, but these were gorgeous, haunting, mysterious. He'd had a hard time getting going and here it is, past the mid-semester point, and here are all these photographs.
It as only after I asked other students to come over and look at them, and they began asking questions that I put the technique together or rather it was handed to me on a plate. He'd said they were taken with his I-phone, only I hadn't noted the I part. And I knew that they were double exposures. But I had absolutely no idea what was giving them such a mysterious quality until someone asked whether there was an app for the technique -- there is. Two photographs are melded together, so after taking the first, he carefully considers the second, takes it, clicks something and the images overlap. Obviously there's a lot of thought put into the taking of them.

What was a complete surprise, though, is that there is another app for the mysterious quality.....and it's called a pinhole app. This doesn't negate the beauty and significance and sureness of his images, but it really puts a point on what used to be done with an oatmeal box, a pinhole and a piece of photographic paper that acted as a negative.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Garden

This is the photograph that Madelaine and Muna thought most expresses the idea of a community garden. I hadn't thought about that, because I don't tend to recognize metaphor (what a dope I am), but they are right. The brick and fencing are symbolic of the garden, and also all the tiny, chain-link fenced yards around so many of the small houses. I narrowly escaped having one by choosing wood -- not a good choice since the slats get broken and once graffiti was sprayed on it. 

I do like this bottle gourd, one of many that Evelyn grew. I was surprised about the richness provided by these few vines and the one with gourds shaped like bottles that grew on the fence.
 I think Madelaine understood that I think these photographs are serviceable, that I'm glad I printed them all and that they've been shown at the Chelsea City Cafe, that the opening and fuss around them brought more applications from prospective gardeners, but that I don't particularly care much about them. They aren't my work, not anything I take with the deadly, unapproving seriousness with which I regard 'my' work. We stood talking at the non-opening (the real one was a month ago) last Saturday.

The images do record a season at the garden and were a fine vehicle for connecting me to an interesting group of people. And I'll do it again next year, because I can do it more easily than most people could. Part of my skill set. And I'll add work at the Senior Center. And make more videos. This has gotten me back into the community work that I wanted to do when I moved to Chelsea in 1985. The long project that I did then, interviews and photographs of a representative, I thought, group of residents in this very small, very poor city (7 and 1/2 people per dwelling, highest rate of occupancy in the Commonwealth), wasn't really shown because there was no place to show it and I regretted that. Just as I'm glad that this one had some real use. It seems odd, difficult, that I'm now 71, just starting to do the community work that I had wanted to do thirty years ago...and there is so  much potential for recording things I'm curious about now -- why folks landed in Chelsea.

It doesn't mean that I didn't work hard to print and frame (however cheaply) this work. That's natural. But I have no desire to add them to my endless store of stuff...........

When I moved here, there was no where to show photographs. Not at the library, not in City Hall. Most of the set I took, sometime in the mid-eighties, ended up at an outreach of Bunker Hill Community College and I forgot about them. Years later when I phoned, hoping to retrieve them (they were decent silver prints, nicely framed), I was told they were no where to be found.

Now there are two galleries in Chelsea, though the hours that they are open are limited. And there is a gallery at the Chelsea City Cafe, just a few blocks away from where I live. Josh puts up shows every month or so. Chuck runs the eatery. And we had a remarkable opening there. Lots of gardeners, friends of gardeners and children. It was the best opening that I could have imagined and I hardly had to talk to anyone. Margaret, a woman who lives just blocks away, who I should have met twenty years ago so I could ride on her coat tails and get connected, who did a lot of the detail work for the show and publicity, was a grand hostess, making introductions and spreading graciousness.
 My favorite photograph, I have to admit, one of the four or five that I actually like, is of Nesa who will be the garden overseer next season. She's from Bosnia. And she came from a farm, growing all the family food. No one works harder than she does, even though the doctors don't want her to be on her feet for more than four hours a day. "Next year," she'd say. She says that for everything. And she laughs. She's had a lot of tragedy in her life. And suffers from it. And she tries to joke and laugh as much as possible. Sometimes she yells back at Joe, who has been the overseer this year. They both shout at each other, laugh, and smoke like demons.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Today involved fighting with the computer -- to upload files in the order I would like them, to pay for submitting a non-fiction piece. This glorious dog, who I met after I had coffee with Morris, was supposed to be the last entry, but perhaps his bravery has earned him first place. He's tottering onward, as best he can, still capable of bringing happiness to those who have been fortunate to have had his company for many years.

 Three of us met for drinks, supposedly, in the decadent and extremely expensive hotel which was made from the Charles Street jail. Mim had read her poetry there a few weeks ago and we'd decided to go back and see what it was like -- on the night before Halloween. The waitresses had to pay for their costumes, something our waitress said didn't bother her since it wasn't expensive, but certainly bothered me. It turns out that the thought of a cocktail, something I haven't had in five or six years, deserted me at the last moment and I had a glass of water as we ate muscles and talked.
There is something ultimately repellant about the place, even though there is a good deal of information on the walls about the award winning conversion of the space. The rooms, Mim said, are $400 a night. Many features of the jail remain, including various doors with bars in the Clink, the cafe that was expecting a big business of young costumed people. The bathroom, where I took my self-portrait, has exposed brick and cement which might or might not be from the original building. The 'yard' has illuminated seating nicely situated on paving stone. When I was there a month ago, the place reminded me of the last days of the Weimar Republic, a strange disconnect from contemporary life and certainly from the past function of the building.

Mim and I took different subways, but I could look across the track and watch her walk along. After her train came, Charlie Chaplin sat on a bench opposite me until mine arrived.

Yesterday I got the chance to video tape someone who had been in that jail, but that experience was just a drop in the bucket to all that happened to him during those rough years. He talked for three hours without drawing breath and would have continued if I hadn't gotten hungry. I can't wait to work with this material and am so grateful for his generosity in talking with me.

I'm feeling vulnerable. For the first time I understood what it means when knees buckle. Mine did last week when I was in Target and I had to hold on to a counter. A nice young woman brought me water. And I recovered, though a residual anxiety remains. I'd asked the doctor when I saw him a month or two ago about why I felt so speedy, but he didn't know. Perhaps I'm just gearing up again, surprised at myself and moving a bit too fast. Hopefully that's the reason, though I don't see how it can explain the feeling of being close to fainting which comes with the thought, "Oh, you're going to faint. That would be awkward."

It's cold and I have to put plastic on the windows.