10/15/2009 (5:52 pm)
Dear Weather Gods,
Which part of my prayer requesting an Indian summer did you not understand?
Fervently searching for an upside to flurries on October 15th,
Dear Weather Gods,
Which part of my prayer requesting an Indian summer did you not understand?
Fervently searching for an upside to flurries on October 15th,
Okay, mark your calendars. A really great writer is coming to Rosendale for an afternoon reading, hosted by yours truly.
Who: Stephen Elliott, author of “The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism and Murder,” and editor of cool online lit mag, The Rumpus
What: a reading/book-signing/Q&A
When: Sunday, November 15th, 4 pm
Where: Market Market, 1 Madeline Lane, at the corner of route 32.
I blew through an advanced reader copy of this bracing, sometimes disturbing memoir in just a couple of days. Brian devoured it in under 24 hours. The writing was beautiful, the story was gripping, and my mind and heart were pried open in ways I didn’t expect they could be by a story that is a lot about violence and crime.
This book is about so many things. It’s about Stephen Elliott, who spent his teen years in group homes and on the street surrounded by violence and drugs, and wrestling with his own psychological demons as well as his relationship with his abusive (maybe murderer) father. It’s about Elliott closely following the murder trial of someone he knew tangentially through the San Francisco S&M scene. It’s about people – three of them, specifically – confessing to murders they might not have committed. And about how every person involved in a situation might have a different, and equally valid, “truth” about said situation.
Above all, for me, “The Adderall Diaries” is about being a writer, especially one who writes from personal experience. Elliott is brave in his willingness to plumb the depths of his experiences and shamelessly reveal himself on the page. He writes about feeling conflicted over inadvertently revealing other people’s sordid – or even not-so-sordid but private – stories in the process. I was inspired not only as a writer who is constantly laboring to summon the courage to reveal my truth, but also simply as a human being who has experienced many of the uncomfortable emotions Elliott doesn’t flinch in copping to.
What people are saying about the book:
Vanity Fair: “Elliott may be writing under the influence, but it’s the influence of genius.”
Amy Tan: “Reading the Adderall Diaries is like peering over the edge of a cliff. Normally we step back. Stephen Elliott jumps, and his harrowing, riveting memoir convinces you to follow him vicariously.”
Jerry Stahl: “Phenomenal…Stephen Elliott may well have written the memoir of an entire generation.”
Check those out, buy the book, and then check this event out. You won’t be sorry.
Me, I’m honored he granted my request to make this little stop on his unique book tour, where he’s mostly reading/signing books in people’s living rooms. And I’m hoping to divine some of his courage by way of osmosis when he’s here.
The latest NYC transplant to Rosendale: Vision of Tibet, a store that had been on Thompson Street just north of Houston. I stopped in recently and spoke to one of the owners. Like us, they lost their lease and couldn’t afford to find a new Manhattan space at current prices.
The store is stocked with much of what you’d expect to find in one of these Himalayan gift shops – incense, Buddhist statues and meditation bells, colorful clothes, scarves and jewelry. This one has a particularly nice selection, and they transformed the former Cake Walk space beautifully. (Not that vintage emporium Cake Walk isn’t missed – it is!)
But there’s a surprise, too: In one of the shop’s front corners, there’s also a little mini-boutique featuring adorable handmade women’s clothes and accessories bearing the label “Fromm.”
It’s nice to have a place to buy gifts again without having to venture to High Falls or New Paltz or Kingston, now that Sapphire is gone. I’ve already done a little damage.
I’ve gotten lots of nice responses from readers about how much they relate to my post about dining alone. Some reported now feeling less self-conscious doing so. In turn, I now also feel a little less self-conscious lunching (or dinnering) with nothing but a book to keep me company, here in these non-metropolitan parts.
I have always felt slightly embarrassed by my loner tendencies, as if I were some kind of freak for frequently wanting to slink off on my own, away from everyone else. I’ve often comforted myself with the popular notion that this is how writers are – so I must really be a writer. I’ve alternated that with the “We always thought she was weird, but it turns out she’s just a New Yorker” premise echoed by Roseanne Cash this weekend in the New York Times magazine.
My flying solo hasn’t been limited to meals and kicking around New York City. I have literally flown solo. First there was the trip to the cities in Greece and Turkey that my paternal grandparents hailed from. It was the summer of 1997, and the emotionally unavailable guy I was dating managed to also make himself physically unavailable for two months, vacationing in Thailand. The Pakn Treger gave me an assignment to write about visiting my grandparents’ homelands, but that was really just an excuse for me to see whether that particular peaceful feeling I’ve always experienced while wandering alone in Manhattan could be located in other places, too. Was it a universal feeling, unaffected by geography and/or language?
Well, yes and no. I was doing pretty well when I arrived in Athens, where everyone speaks English. I buzzed happily around the Plaka, eating, drinking and shopping all by my lonesome. But when I got to Thessaloniki, I discovered most people didn’t speak English. And, like the French, those few who did didn’t want to bother. To make matters worse, I hadn’t realized I’d scheduled my arrival for one day before a five-day-long somber holiday – “the Dormition of Mary” – in observance of which, just about everything shut down. With not a soul to speak to, museums shuttered, and few restaurants open, I started to go a little berserk. For once I wasn’t just alone; I was lonely. When the holiday ended, I bumped into another American named Megan at a coffee shop, and the two of us yammered on for hours and hours. Her voice was shrill and annoying and I have no idea what we talked about. But I was happy in that moment to converse with another human being.
Then there was the trip to Paris. If there was ever a time I felt like a loner freak, that was it. I mean, seriously. How many people do you know who go to Paris alone? I went completely on a whim, the morning after break-up number 2 (of 3) with the emotionally unavailable boyfriend mentioned above. As I was leaving his apartment that morning in the fall of 1998, I stumbled upon a flyer on a telephone pole advertising courier flights. For just $200 round-trip, they’d take you to just about any city in Europe. You’d be the body on board representing a particular piece of cargo underneath. You just had to sign some papers at each end, and you could only bring one bag, carry-on size. Fine by me.
I tore off one of the flyer’s fringes with the phone number for Airtech. “When do you fly to Paris?” I asked the man who answered. “Today at 3 pm,” he said. “Can you get to Kennedy Airport by noon?” In the midst of a ten-day hiatus in a project I was working on, I could, and I did.
Two friends of mine were working in Paris at the time. “Remember you said I should visit?” I asked one. “How about I get there tomorrow at 7 am?” I split the time between those two gracious hosts, sleeping on their couches. I spent the days by myself, bouncing from museums to Cathedrals to flea markets to cafes, and loving every instant of it.
It was the perfect thing to do after a second break-up of a lukewarm relationship – get out of Dodge, distract myself with art and architecture and culture and people-watching. There in Paris I found that peaceful feeling. It felt so good, I never cried, not even once.
Today I turn 44. As a younger woman, I never imagined I’d someday find myself living in rural upstate New York, not even in an off-beat little town like Rosendale. I don’t think I knew there were little offbeat towns filled with downtown and Brooklyn expats straddling rural and urban sensibilities – hipster deejays who happen to raise chickens, for example.
No, I thought I’d spend the rest of my days on the Island of Manhattan. At one point I was certain it would be in my small, mouse-infested rent-stabilized East 13th Street slum. After meeting and moving in with Brian, I believed we’d live happily ever after in his killer loft. Well, shit happens.
In The Cruise – a favorite documentary – writer, philosopher and one time New York City tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch quotes Greta Garbo on what she loved about New York City. She said, “It’s the only place where I can be truly alone.” Imagine that – surrounded by 8 million people. For me, it was about the ability to be alone among people – to spend time by myself without feeling lonely, or self-conscious about people worrying that I was lonely.
As someone who often preferred imaginary friends to real ones as a child, who later passed up hanging out with other teens in favor of solitary, contemplative walks around the perimeter of the little island-within-Long Island I grew up on, I was clearly made for metropolitan New York living. After that second time I was out with my Manhattanite grandparents and noticed a woman dining alone, I became fascinated with the idea of spending time by myself there.
I tried it out for the first time at 15, during Christmas vacation. I lied to my mother about my plans. At a time when other girls were constructing alibis about going to so-and-so’s house so they could secretly meet up with boys, I made one up so I could rendez-vous with a future serious companion: the island of Manhattan. I told her I was meeting my camp friend Lisa Cingiser and we were going skating at Wollman Rink. Lisa wasn’t allowed to go to the city then, but my mother didn’t know that. I told her that she’d be meeting me on the LIRR, getting on at the Lynbrook stop.
Misbehaving didn’t come naturally to me, a goody-two-shoes. Buzzing with a mix of fear and possibility, I boarded the train at Island Park, and watched out the window as we left the south shore of Long Island and then Queens behind.
When the train pulled into Penn Station, I already felt a little more grown up. I walked east from Seventh Avenue and found my way to Fifth, then headed north. I wasn’t yet familiar with much of the city beyond the bounds of mid-town, where my grandfather had a clothing manufacturing business and my father was a cantor in a synagogue.
Bundled in my bulky wool winter coat, I took myself to see the holiday windows at Lord & Taylor, and then the tree at Rockefeller Center. I remember standing there, steaming cup of hot chocolate in hand, watching the skaters down below, and experiencing a certain peace I had never felt before. I was surrounded by people, shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers in a crowd of countless tourists. Yet I was alone with my thoughts, an observer simultaneously connected and detached. This was a feeling, and independence, I knew I’d want to experience often when I got older.
Here in Rosendale, I still spend a good deal of time by myself. I work alone all day, and become a social butterfly at lunch, in the evenings, on weekends. But to really achieve that very particular peacefulness, I need to hop a Trailways bus to Manhattan. Sometimes I travel in for an appointment, and allow time on either side of it for just walking and observing. Other times, it’s simply an appointment with myself, and that old companion of mine.
Last night I bumped into my physical therapist at the Red Brick Tavern. He was there with his wife, kids and some friends. As the hostess was seating me at a table near theirs, a concerned expression came over his face.
“Is…Brian meeting you?” he asked. “No,” I said, “I’m here by myself.” His concern grew. “Oh…” Just as it seemed he was about to invite me to join them, I interruped. “It’s okay – I’ve got a book.” He looked really uncomfortable. “No, really,” I assured him. “This is fine. I do this all the time.”
My physical therapist is a really nice guy. He is a born and bred Rosendalian, and clearly not familiar with the New Yorker phenomenon – celebrated tradition, really – of dining alone. Like many who’ve never lived in the city, he still equates a table for one with loneliness. For people like me, it’s nothing like that.
Social as I may seem, I am also part New Yorker, which means part loner. I lived alone in Manhattan for more than a dozen years, much of that time also working alone, and, quite frequently, dining alone. Although I enjoy eating with family and friends – and my husband, of course – I also love going out by myself for a meal or a coffee or a glass of wine.
I can often be found at Market Market by myself at lunch time. Nobody bats an eyelash, but, really, that place is more of an outpost of Brooklyn. Half the other people there are eating by themselves too, while reading a book or the Bluestone Press or the Brooklyn Rail, or writing on their laptops. We all nod to each other, and maybe schmooze a little, but, transplanted New Yorkers all, we know not to take the schmoozing too far. Each of us knows the other is enjoying that unique city phenomenon of being alone among other people. It’s nice to be able to get a dose of that up here. (We all also seem versant in certain urban body-language clues that indicate those occasions when it’s appropriate to ask, “May I join you?”)
There was a time when I was uninitiated in this. I remember going out to dinner with my Manhattanite grandparents as a teenager. The first time I noticed a woman eating by herself, with only a notebook and pen for company, I felt sorry for her. “That poor woman,” I said. “Some people like that,” my grandfather corrected me. “People do that in the city.” The next time I witnessed it, my attitude was different. I specifically recall being in some fish restaurant on Third Avenue in the 60s. A casually chic forty-ish woman pored over The New York Times between bites of trout and sips of Chardonnay. To me, she epitomized the cosmopolitan, independent kind of woman I wanted to be when I grew up.
A word of advice to those who are new to this: Reading material is crucial. It doesn’t really matter what it is. While interesting books and such obviously make better dining companions, printed matter also simply serves as a prop. Even the local pennysaver will do. It helps you politely say, “I’m here by myself because I choose to be. I’m not lonely; I’m busy – busy enjoying my own company.”
Compared to everyone else in my family – and I don’t think any of my relatives will disagree with this or take offense – I tend to think of myself as a slightly daring nature girl. I hike! I camp! I eat cherry tomatoes out of the garden without washing them first!
But every now and then here in my little pastoral realm I encounter something that exposes my urban/suburban underpinnings – my inner Zsa-Zsa-on-Green-Acres, if you will – in a harsh light. Yesterday, it was this snake. I was headed out for a walk, and there it was, approaching the back stoop. It seemed to be angling for a little puddle just ahead of it.
I stopped dead in my tracks and proceeded to hyperventilate. I didn’t yet know it was a harmless garter snake; people on Facebook apprised me of that after I posted a picture of it. But knowing it wasn’t inclined to bite me wouldn’t have allayed my fears completely, anyway. There’s something about that reptilian skin and snakes’ slithering nature that just freaks me out, undoes me completely. This was my Fear Factor moment.
I called Brian and frantically asked him what to do. He said to scare it away by making some noise with a rake, or some rocks. I didn’t have to do that, though. By the time we hung up, the thing started turning around and moving in the other direction. It was pretty cool to watch. I caught most of it on the video above.
I guess it was afraid of me, too.
Strangest thing the other morning: as I as headed out for a walk, I noticed this very cute Honda Insight parked near the Bywater Bistro. On my return from the walk, the first thing I saw was a state trouper’s car in the middle of the road with its lights flashing. Then, I caught sight of that very same Honda all smashed up, turned out at an angle, and accordioned into a telephone pole. Just up ahead was a Mustang with a busted up fender and other parts, and fluids leaking everywhere.
A bunch of people were gathered around, wondering aloud how one hits a parked car like that, a small one, no less. The owner looked shell-shocked. He explained that it was from the original line of Insights, and that there were only 500 made in that color. He’d put 200,000 miles on it, and got 60 miles to the gallon. So, he was pretty bummed. Not to mention that, you know, now he was stranded.
Incidentally, the staff of the rt. 32 bridge rehab project was out there gawking, too. I asked them, “So, when’s the bridge going to be done?” Answer: by the end of October. I thought it would be sooner, considering how close they seem to completion. I’m re-calibrating my Internal Patience Generator.
I feared it was an anesthesia flash back. I wandered into Willow Kiln Park – behind the Rosendale Theater and the Big Cheese and Soiled Doves – and, I swear, a log on the ground started talking to me. It welcomed me, and then it started relating the history of Rosendale, and I kept looking around to see if the voice was coming from somewhere else. A few minutes in, I am pretty sure it asked me, “Are you still there?”
Okay, I made that up – the part about it being an anesthesia flash-back. Not the part about the talking log, though. That really happened. I had actually gone there to hear the log talk. I knew that Mark Bernard had put it there – it’s his cool “The Tree Whispers Rosendale” interactive art installation. I knew because he came to borrow a shovel the other day to move some greenery around log.
Ah, the magic of modern technology. It’s got a whole audio system inside that works on motion sensor technology, so it starts talking when it senses you’re near. Every few mintutes it (in Mark’s voice) asks you to move around so it can keep going. No, it’s not being needy.
So, if you find yourself in Willow Kiln Park, and a tree starts going on about the Lenape Indians who lived here, and the canals and the cement business, no need to assume you’re losing it.
I went for a little constitutional on the rail trail the other day and came across some people in a golf cart. I was all ready to wag my finger and say, “Hey! No motorized vehicles here!” But it was these folks, who are actually working on repairing and restoring the rail trail: Carl Hornbeck, Town of Rosendale Highway Superintendent; Allan Bowdery, Chair of Conservation, Wallkill Valley Land Trust; and Amy R. Poux, Director of Development, Wallkill Valley Land Trust.
They were surveying the path to see what parts need work. In concert with the Open Space Institute, they’re getting started on that plan I mentioned to rehab the trail and fix the trestle so it goes all the way across route 213 to the Kingston side. So, this is really happening. Very exciting.