Archive for SJ’s Photos

Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers fighting against gun violence, against concentration camps for children, against climate change. To fathers not in the fight: look at your children, and ask yourselves how they’ll feel about the world you’re leaving them.

I Love New York

In NYC, when you’re doing a construction job, you post a copy of the Building Department-approved façade drawing. One of my neighbors did, and another neighbor seems to have found it boring, and thus enhanced it. I love New York.

The Pizza’s Purse; or, What Exactly Do You Do at Bookcamp?

I’m out in Wisconsin (except for you people also in Wisconsin, who can read that as ‘I’m here in Wisconsin’) as the Writer in Residence at the Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp. Kind of like bootcamp for books. This is my fifth year in this gig, and I love it. Some photos herewith; but it’s not the beauty of the place that’s mostly responsible for how I feel about coming here. Though the place is beautiful. It’s a retreat center west of West Bend, in the eastern part of the state. You don’t need to know that, I just got a kick out of saying it.

This is farm country, and right now everything’s green and lush. A farm bordering the property on the west has the biggest cattle I’ve ever seen, a breed known as Belted Galloways. I’ve been told, by the way, that cattle like it when they’re sung to; I’m going to try it tomorrow and woe be unto thee who told me that if it turns out not to be true. This property is gently rolling, with a pond, lots of lilacs in bloom, trees, woods, streams, plus a chapel, comfy reading spaces, and a labyrinth to walk if you get the urge. The rooms have beds, chairs, desks, bathrooms with showers, and that’s it. No TV, no room service — in fact, no maid service. Your room’s made up when you get here, and after that it’s up to you. No fancy stuff. A dining hall for your three hots, a couple of classrooms. There’s also a spa where you can get a massage and suchlike but I’ve never seen anyone use it. Maybe when other stuff is going on, but Bookcamp week, everyone comes to work.

And that’s why I love this gig. We have breakfast together, the “campers” and the “retreaters” and the staff. Then the retreaters go off and write, and the campers come to class, where Phil Martin and I teach Beginnings, Middles, Ends, and Whateverthehellelseyouwanttoaskus. Lunch, more writing, critique sessions, talks by outside experts. We have a number of returning students, which is great, and people go from “I want to write a book… I think…” to “I’m a writer working on a book” and that’s what I love most. People taking themselves and their writing seriously. It’s what I love most about Art Workshop International in Assisi, too (for which, plug plug, there’s still time to sign up this year) but if you feel Italy’s a bridge too far and you want to do a workshop in the US, next year here would be my recommendation.

Oh, that pizza. At lunch yesterday we were for some reason discussing pizza at my table — not clear why, because we weren’t eating pizza — and a couple of people started advocating for pineapple on pizza. I was strongly in the opposition camp. Someone said I was looking at it wrong. The pizza, she said, is the crust and cheese and tomato sauce and ham. The pineapple is like an accessory, the one that makes the outfit.

“You mean, like a bracelet?” I asked skeptically.

“No, more like a purse. A really great purse. The pineapple is the pizza’s Prada purse.”

Which would be why I love writers.

Chapel wall

Pond

Water lilies just starting to bloom

Stream

Giant cattle far away

 

 

 

About that baby goat…

The following is the story of my weekend.

Many of you know I have Four Fabulous Nephews. The bad news part of the story is that the oldest of them, a JetBlue pilot in his 40’s, has colon cancer. The good news part of the bad news is that the type he has was found early and is apparently eminently curable, though the cure involves a long, unpleasant process: heavy duty chemo, which he recently finished, followed by lighter chemo and radiation, followed by surgery, followed by more surgery to finish the repair. So, very unpleasant, but successful some huge percentage of the time.

He’s sweet, friendly, frank, and generous, this nephew. In short, Fabulous. In typical fashion, he didn’t keep his illness a secret, thinking knowing about it might push other people to get exams, help, etc. When his friends found out they wanted to do something for him. There’s not a lot one can do — he has good health insurance, so he doesn’t need a fundraiser, even — but a bunch of them decided to put on a concert honoring him and raising money for cancer care.

More on the friends later. This nephew lives in Saratoga Springs, so the concert venue chosen was the Proctor Theater in Schenectady. (Proctor jokes re: colon cancer are acceptable but I believe they’ve all been made.) My sister Debby from Philadelphia and I decided to go up, and Debby’s friend Alice came along.

First up, I met them in Newark because Debby refused to drive into NYC. When I got to the parking lot meeting place I saw this:

because after all Debby and Alice met in circus class.

Next, the drive to Saratoga, where we joined a bunch of family for bbq dinner and a little hula hooping.

 

Then Debby, Alice, and I went on to our evening’s accommodation: a yurt on the Mariaville Goat Farm. Debby found it online. She sent me a couple of B&B options, but this looked so much like Mongolia I couldn’t resist.

It has glass in the door and it has windows, neither of which a Himalayan yurt/ger will have, and it’s built a little differently. But the coziness of a yurt at night, especially with the rain falling softly around; and the sounds of goats in goat conversation, are exactly the same. In the early morning, tea outside, birds chirping in the mist; then breakfast, supplied by the lovely Ed and Rick, who run the place — it was heavenly. Yes, before you ask, a yurt has no plumbing, there’s a outhouse. I promise you it’s cleaner, brighter, and more welcoming than most of the public bathrooms you use.

So there we were, waking in our tranquil yurt in the morning, hanging out, but we had to pack up our stuff and put it on the shelves by 10:00 because it was time for — goat yoga! Yes, Yoga for the Journey offers yoga in the yurt. With goats. This was something I’d never heard of, but it seems to be a thing (google it, go on) and it was great! The perfect thing for stretching out and, well, petting baby goats at the same time. Which you know you always wanted to do, right?

Finally, we had to leave the farm, sigh, and head down to Schenectady for the concert. So, as I said, the concert was organized by the nephew’s friends. Who are they? Well, Nephew is a bagpiper. Yes he is. The concert was bagpipe soloists and bagpipe-and-drum bands, from near and far, all donating their time and talent —  and renting the hall — so the ticket revenue could go to a cancer charity of Nephew’s choice. I love piping and this concert was just great. Also, great to see how the piping community came out to support one of their own.

After it was all over, we headed happily south, back home. We drove through pouring rain — that was my part of the drive — then Debby and Alice dropped me in Newark and continued on in clearer weather. I took the PATH to the subway and got home just about midnight. I jumped in the shower before Bella the Cat even noticed I smelled like goat. Though, for all I know, she wouldn’t have cared. What a great weekend!

Rain rain rain rain rain

Boy is it raining here in NYC. It’s so dark in my usually-bright apartment that I seem to be wearing an olive shirt instead of the gray one I thought I’d taken from the drawer. Thunder and lightning, even. April showers, indeed.

But it’s okay. Saturday was gorgeous and I was out most of the day. And yesterday the rain didn’t start until evening, so after basketball I had time for a good walk through northwest Harlem to meet JL for a performance by Lotus Music and Dance at the United Palace Theater. Besides the fact that Lotus performances are among my favorite things, there’s the thrill of the theater itself. It was built as one of Loew’s huge movie palaces and is the only one never to fall into bad disrepair, owning to its second owner. After it closed as a theater in 1969 — showing “2001” as its final show — it was bought by a gent known as the Reverend Ike. He was a prosperity theology preacher, known for saying such things as,

“The best thing you can do for the poor is not be one of them.”

His place had to look prosperous, so Rev. Ike fixed what needed fixing and preached in the theater for years. After he died in 2009 his son made it over into a community cultural center.

So on this rainy day, I present to you the glories of the interior of the United Palace Theater. The exterior is spectacular, too, but I only managed one shot of that before we had to go take our seats, and when the performance was over the rain had started. You’ll just have to get up to 175th and Broadway on a sunny day and see for yourselves.

Lobby lighting fixtures

 

Auditorium interior

 

 

Auditorium interior

 

Balcony painted decoration

 

Exterior — and this is the rear

 

 

Very large ladies’ room

 

Detail, stair landing decorative element

 

Pilasters

 

Another lobby fixture

 

 

I Love New York

For some reason unknown to me — as the reasons for most things are — yesterday morning’s walk to the basketball gym was rife with discarded items that practically wrote their own captions. Here are mine; you’re welcome to send yours.

Honey… About the dog…

 

Whee! First-class flatbed from now on!

 

It should’ve set off warning bells when he insisted on hanging that stupid self-portrait in the living room.

 

Take this messenger job and shove it!

 

Do you think he’ll get it if I leave TWO behind?

 

 

 

Come study with me in Assisi!

I know you all want to come to my writing workshop in Assisi at Art Workshop International and I want you all there! So to that end, please note that the early bird registration discount has been extended until April 20. Take advantage! Come to Italy!

 

 

I Love New York

It’s not uncommon here to see plastic bottles and aluminum cans left beside trash containers, for street people to collect and redeem for the nickel or dime. People often place them carefully so they won’t blow away. This, however, was new to me: a pile, worth a couple of bucks, with its own handy carrying bag. I love New York.

It’s my birthday, and I’ll buy if I want to

But I don’t want to — I want YOU to. What I want for my birthday is for each and all of you to rush out and buy yourself a copy of this fabulous book. Then buy one for a friend, as an early, or belated, birthday present. Available wherever fine books are sold.

Why, you ask? Because it has heartbreaking, or funny, or breathtaking stories by such writers as Alice Walker, Walter Mosley, Paul Theroux, and well, ME. Not enough, you say? It has art by folks like Eric Fischl, Art Spiegelman, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. More, you want? We, the writers and artists, do not get the profits; nor does Simon and Schuster, who published it. Who does? The ACLU!

So — get yourself, and a friend, or many friends, a great book (and yes, it comes in e form), make a contribution to the ACLU, and celebrate the fact that I’m a year older.

Well, someone has to celebrate it. Not me. But get this book!

Bella the Cat

Here is Bella the Cat taking a drink. Note the balletic posture, left shoulder up, right paw crossed over and down for balance as she prepares to stick her snout into the H2O. Shocked, you ask yourself: what evil cat owner would make it this difficult for a kitty to get at her hydration?

Well, here’s the thing: this is not her water dish. Her water dish is an ignored object on the kitchen floor. It sits beside her food dish and is refilled every morning with the same fresh water as is in this. THIS is for the plants, to help humidify them. The previous cat, The Late Great Fugazy, never gave it a thought.

But from the moment — three days into her residence here — when Bella finally crawled out from under the bed to explore her surroundings, she found the water in this bowl much tastier than the water in her dish.

In reality, this is what I think is going on: Bella was a foundling. She was adopted as a kitten by some folks who wanted a friend for their aging cat. Bella, though, was too aggressive — in fact she was so pushy they named her after Bella Abzug. (Now that’s a real NY story, huh?) Finally the older cat was so terrorized she stopped eating, and they decided Bella had to go. So she came here.  I think she must have survived on the streets until her adoption by a combination of aggression and sneakiness. Even now she doesn’t like to eat while I’m in the kitchen — if I come in while she’s eating she’ll run away. Otherwise she never avoids me (quite the contrary, e.g. she’s on my lap right now) but while she’s eating she wants to be alone. I think this water ballet business also has to do with making sure those other cats whom she used to have to fight for food on the street can’t sneak up on her while she’s stealing water from the out-of-the-way puddle. I also bet that if I put a food dish up there, that would be her dish of choice, too. Too bad that’s not about to happen.