Live from New York: this morning as a family of starlings chirped me into cognizance, I thought, the past is present again. Funny—it remembered the first day of my Woodstock residency almost a month ago, less evocative of home than a clue to the sheer volume and diversity of bird stock in that neck of the state. The effect, though, was the same (get out of bed NOW, get to work).
Life in the mountains felt like a recurring dream of time stops and regressions. The sounds were a part of it; wildlife chases you in Woodstock the way it did in my native Cincinnati, a city whose multiplicity of parks surrounds the urban center like a bordering forest. A walk down Tinker Street meant an inevitable encounter with the music of my youth; songs I hadn’t heard in years bled from passing cars and nostalgia shops.
So many overcast days melded into the blackest nights I’d experienced in some time. Which meant that sometimes you saw things that weren’t there. Things went bump; talk of ghosts was plentiful during my stay—I learned from a previous resident that my room at the Villetta Inn (named for poet Wallace Stevens) was reportedly haunted, less an explanation for my many sleepless nights, more a confirmation that in Woodstock, time is less fixed, amorphous, a timebend suitable both for local tourism, and maniacal memoirists on a quest for revelations about their own pasts. The place opened me up, pulling up memories and images long buried. I could blame it on the ghosts, but I suspect the peace and quiet were as much a factor (amazing what the mind can hear when you wipe away distractions).
Note to self: what happens in Woodstock (cameo appearances in videos and doc shorts, impromptu singing, late nights, shared cigarettes) stays in Woodstock. Everything that is, except new revelations about my work. There’s an adage in tennis—if you play someone better than you, you’ll get better too—how apropos when I think of the other residency artists who shared both their physical and intellectual space. Protean people all—they’ve sent me back to NYC re-energized, ready to dig in the dirt, less afraid to fail (or succeed) as I walk this writing road.
I return to Manhattan and a world that’s slightly shifted. The deaths of Peter Falk (fondly remembered as TV’s Columbo), David Rayfiel (a writer whose work enhanced, but went uncredited on such films as The Way We Were, Jeremiah Johnson, Absence of Malice and The Electric Horseman), Margaret Tyzack and Alice Playten (two proteans of the New York stage) rip a hole in the hearts of us who care about such things. Balancing such sadness comes the news that gay marriage is now legal in NY State. My joy is tempered by an email from the Human Rights Campaign warning me that evil forces lie in wait: puritanicals (in the name of God, sigh) remain duty-bound in their quest to dictate how other Americans must live and love (so give money, sigh). Their snickering voices echo the small-mindedness bred in those towns fled by many of us who’ve come here to live and work with open minds and hearts.
Much as I’d like to think I’ve outgrown the need, I welcome the validation; too bad some of us still find it hard to relax in a country where discrimination, gay bashing and bullying remain part of a very real present that can’t be wiped away with a swipe of our governor’s pen. Progress, yes—but our true summer of love still lies a way off. Happy fourth; here’s to future days.
Photo credit: Bennett Miller