Ever so quietly, we shout among the living

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IMG_7834I’m sitting in a renovated chicken coup in upstate New York about 30 minutes away from the spot where a friend was memorialized earlier this week and about 45 minutes away from where we gathered to do the same for another friend just three weeks ago.  The first was a middle aged mother of three taken too soon.  The later, an 84 year mother and grandmother taken just in time.  I am nearing middle age sitting alone in a check coop feeling very much alive.

Surrounded by the sounds of birds, insects, ducks and pony’s just outside the door and the occasional field mouse scattering up or down the chicken wire in the center of the coup, as if to give me a little jolt, I can’t help but celebrate the life that is all around us.  The sky is the bluest of blues and the clouds thick pillows of white with dark heavy bottoms that remind us that things can change in an instant.  Whether it be in the coup, on a hammock, or hidden away in a tiny room somewhere, here, new life is breathed into one’s senses reminding me how fortunate I am to be here, alive and able to use this environment to fuel my creativity.

IMG_7831I came here to work on a play that my collaborator and I have been developing for some time.  I love the characters in our story so very much and am proud to have created them.  I feel humbled that he and I are working so ferociously to challenge a world that is actively infringing on the very same beauties that I am on this farm taking inspiration from.  I am intimidated by own voice just enough that when it comes out, it is often unpredictably a whisper or a scream, but when I write all intimidation falls away.

The beautiful women who have come before me and have recently been laid to rest were both artists, writer’s, gardner’s, stewards and so many things that I hope to be.  So in honor of Marlene Linz and Allelu Kurten, I find myself here upon Ryder Farm, ever so quietly, writing out loud.

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Why wake and bake?

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IMG_7823Brewster, NY – I never understood the practice of waking and baking.  You just refreshed. Waking and creating, sure.  But, why would one…?

Lifestyle choices aside, many months ago, my collaborator and I had the good fortune of being granted a writing residency at Space at Ryder Farm in Brewster, NY.  We applied for many residencies but this is the one that he wanted the most.  To work on a farm while having time to write felt correct to him.  And clearly, I agreed, because I am here.  But something else feels right to me as well.  A nap.

It’s been a few short years since I have begun writing with any actual intention to publish or produce and thus far, for me, the secret to being generative, not brilliant, generative, is quite simple.  Solitude and a good ol’ fashioned nap.  The nap is the key part.

Those who have written along side me on the beautiful wicker furniture on the old wooden porch at The O’Neill report that I begin to nap with a computer open on my lap, lifting my head suddenly and with weary eyes begin to write.  The sounds of the birds on high.  The ocean breeze washing over me.  All the colors of the world around me in technicolor.  The scents in the air crisp in clean.  I wake and write.  Well, type.  For some time, I defended this “technique” as meditation.  Then, I perfected it.

A few summer’s back, I found myself at the Nantucket Island School of Design and the Arts on a different residency.  In the living room of my cottage were two twin beds placed at a 90 degree angle in the corner, just inside the screen door.  A sectional of sorts if you will.  One, I used as couch.  The other, the one that ran alongside the window so that I could take advantage of the ocean breeze, was designated for 2:30 naps.  Every day, like clock work, you could find me there, relaxing my muscles from head to toe.  (It’s a skill).  By 3:30, I’d find myself writing in my notebook or typing away through dinner.  On very long work days, I might stop for a cup of coffee or perhaps a cocktail.  But those vices, or devises for some, rarely brought me ideas.

So here I am, on a new and wonderful retreat, two twin beds once again at my disposal, and I am ready to get to work.  My collaborator is back in Brooklyn sending me notes and edits as we speak.  But here on the farm, I am prepared to see if my theory will remain in tact:

“If one is most creative right when they wake, shouldn’t they wake more times per day?”

Well now that the nap is out of the way…  I’ll find out.

No. It is not because I am New Yorker.

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It wasn’t long after disembarking the Grey Lady that I found myself wondering, so what’s next? The island of Nantucket, which remains as beautiful as ever, has clearly been ravaged. The house just two charming doors down from where I stay has been ravaged. There are few signs that it ever existed. The house next store is up on stilts. New builds are being raised up on stilts as well and the sound of new construction wafts through the air as if it has always been part of the sound of the ocean breeze. Across the street the harbor view has grown to become breathtaking, but only because a house was damaged so badly during that last winter storm that no one wanted to buy it. So, it is no longer. The view, while spectacular, is sad. While this is obviously not a unique story in this countries long history of horrific natural disasters, it is the one that I am observing at the moment. And the sound of change is deafening to me. The island goes on. And while humbled at the opportunity to be here taking part in island life, I can’t help but ask myself, what’s next?

Reports from so many news agencies in the past few days and weeks focus on the rising ocean tide. Miami is threatened by the rising sea levels as well as the Florida Everglades which are slowly dying off and rotting into the city. All of Florida is at risk for that matter.   This is a terrifying fact and Floridians are not alone. As someone who has grown up on an island and has almost always lived on an island or near a coastal town, I find myself wondering, why is it that the only place that I have ever heard these topics discussed widely, regularly and passionately is here? Is it because the threat is higher to a small town 30 miles out to sea? Is it because changes in lifestyle are imminent in this town of semi-traditionalists? I’m guessing not. I think it’s because “Nantucket-ites”, the true islanders, are constantly and ferociously concerned with the world around them. They are concerned with the ecosystems in the water and on the land it surrounds. They fear the eradication of the same animal life they are known for hunting for years. They are the protectorates of life as they know it and they are not reluctant to tell you so. The people of Nantucket are not only admirable people, they are the stewards of their land and their history and they are proud of that. And so they should be.

So for me, the question remains, what’s next? To be fair to myself, I do not wonder this already because I am “being a New Yorker” and rushing on to the next thing before I have even finished this one. I am back in my humble cottage, preparing to do work in puppetry with the community while during my short stay. I have conference calls scheduled back home and morning email sessions have already been logged. Creative writing sessions at the beach are scheduled into my planner. Fresh fruits and vegetables are in the fridge and dinner plans with friends have been penciled in. (Tonight is affordable seafood, fresh off the boat). This is the status quos that I have built for myself on the island and I am grateful for it. But still, when I leave, what will be happening? Will the winter be so ravaging that the National Guard needs to return to the island again? Will more houses come down as the shoreline continues to erode and the ocean continues to take back its land? How will these changes and virtual inevitabilities change the resolve of a people who just whose home is named after the Native American word for “far away land”? One must imagine that they will shift, listening to ecosystem of the land and the changing tide but staying true to one thing. They are the stewards of their world, which is so intimately connected to the greater world at large, and they are proud of this. It is my hope that the rest of the world can somehow embody the same passion for this planet.

The Door to Le Coupe

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The screen door to my cottage at NISDA.

The screen door to my cottage at NISDA. Le Coupe!

Screen doors are awesome! Yep. I know that this is a dorky thing to say and I stand by it. Since spending time on Nantucket, I have become officially obsessed with screen doors, especially the old squeaky wooden ones. Of all of the things that I will miss when I go back to my apartment in Brooklyn, the screen door on my cottage (a.k.a. “le Coupe” as I lovingly refer to it) will easily be among the top ten.

My apartment has two beautiful drafty old French-feeling paned windows that open out and let the bugs in. And, with the exception of one major bug bite assault that I endured one evening, I don’t mind it. My windows make me feel European. They bring a cozy yet sophisticated feeling to my small studio that I really love. On top of that, they bring light, lots and lots of light. The screen door that I am currently enjoying in “le Coupe” has brought this lifestyle choice, letting the outside in, to an all-new level. This is in part because the screen has a large slash in it allowing the flies that one intends to keep out with such a door, in. Consequently, I just leave it open. The result? Air. Light. Nature. I love it.

Doubtful that I will ever be “the cat lady” or “the crazy lady” I am seriously considering becoming the “Screen Door Lady”. As it stands now, when you enter my apartment, there is a place to put your shoes and next to that a small table under an old mirror both of which are family heirlooms. On top of the table there is a tray for mail and keys and two small glass jars; one with mints and the other candy. My friends call it the “courtesy bar”. And, with the amount of traffic that often comes in and out of my little white castle in the sky, why not have a little convenience station for folks? In the summer, there is sun block in the basket beneath the table and in the winter lotion. The basket is nestled in the bench that lives under the table so that one can easily put their shoes on. Compact city living that makes life convenient for me as well as guests. So, why not add a screen door I ask? When people arrive, they can just stand outside and call in to me like they do here on Nantucket. “Hellooooo”. And I’ll get a cross breeze! Of course it will be a unique amalgam of the warm dank air from the summer streets in Brooklyn with the scent of onions and bacon combined with stale cigarettes, a very particular aroma that often envelopes the hallway in my apartment building, mixing haring harmoniously in my living room…

Okay, so maybe a screen a door on an apartment that opens into a hallway isn’t the best idea. Particularly when the guy across the hall often keeps his door open. But one thing is for sure, I will be missing the sound of the old wooden screen door on the cottage that I called mine for my short stay on this island, and I will look forward to the day when I can install one in the entry to a dwelling that I own. It will be simple, comforting and warm, just how I like my homes. For now, if you come to visit me in my NYC apartment, please excuse the quiet squeaking sound that may escape my mouth as I open the door to greet you. While I am undoubtedly happy to see you back in the city, mentally, I still live at the beach.

Biking to the Beach

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A beautiful Nantucket walking trail.

A beautiful Nantucket walking trail.

On Saturday a local that I have come to know took me on a bike tour of Nantucket on the way to the ocean. Living on the harbor side of the island and not having biked a good deal, I was apprehensive and excited. The ride was beautiful, hilly, rustic, suburban, historic and new. I learned a lot, saw a lot and felt a lot. Mainly what I felt physically was in my arse, but I don’t think that one is supposed to put that down in writing. (Sorry Mom).

I have never ridden on a rustic bike trail before and as we rode a million movies rushed through head. I kept giggling to myself about how I had always known that I would love biking through the trees and down various hills and paths but had chickened out for reasons I prefer not to commit to a blog. Some of the old paths took us through heavily vegetated areas. I’ve been reading a lot about elephants and how they create pathways through the forest for travel. Many are ancient paths that they continue to maintain. It occurred to me how humans do the same and have for eternity and how being an urban/suburban gal myself; these traditional routes of transports had never really registered much to me.  Perhaps I’ve thought about it when hiking, but clearly I had not thought about it extensively.

Now more acquainted with this stunning way of travel, I am eager to get back on the bike (with a more comfortable seat please) and learn how to use my gears and read a bike map. (It’s not that easy – or at least not for me).   I have one more week on the island and I can’t wait to see where else my bike takes me.

In The Dumps

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The Madaket Mall

The Madaket Mall

For the past few days I have been trying to come up with something to blog about.  Sure, there are a million things to write about and I have been.  I have been journaling like a mad woman and working on the play that I am here to write, “Tusk”, until all hours of the night when the spirit moves me.  I have been consumed with thoughts about the words “community” and “team”.  How are they alike and how are they different?  But these thoughts aren’t gaining much clarity, so I put them aside. Then it occurred to me that I might be down in the dumps. Hmmm…  Nope, that’s not it!  I’m working like crazy and getting a lot of things out.  I’ve been communing with people on the phone, via email and face-to-face.  Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, but mostly, it’s just life that we’re talking about and experiencing. So no, this isn’t the doldrums. Maybe it’s just my “process”!

Oh but wait!  Did I just write “the dumps”? The dump!  YES! Last week I went with some new friends to what is lovingly referred to as “The Madaket Mall”.   All of my friends and family on Long Island, land of the strip mall, are now asking, “There’s a mall on Nantucket”?  I know! I thought the same thing.  Nope.  “The Mall” is the Take It Or Leave It area at the dump and it’s amazing!  If you’re an artist like yours truly, it’s unlikely that you are leaving empty handed.  If you are thrifty, I’m sure there’s something there that you can “make work” too.  And if you just don’t have the cash to spend on things, don’t worry, someone is about to come with a bag of clothes, or some books, or God knows what else that you might need!

“The Madaket Mall” is a place for giving and taking and I am hoping to go back this Sunday.  I can’t really take anything because I am going home on a boat. There isn’t much for me to leave because I didn’t bring much. But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to go.  At the very least, it’s window-shopping that I can afford. It is my humble opinion that the island of Nantucket should sell “I love the Madaket Mall” t-shirts as a fundraiser. Actually, maybe they’d have to give those away.

Post Script: I will not be divulging if I did or did not leave with anything lest folks wonder about the origin of their Christmas gifts.

Thank the Lord for Cape Cod Potato Chips

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Cape Cod Potato Chips at Provisions ~ Nantucket, MA

Cape Cod Potato Chips at Provisions ~ Nantucket, MA

While the past few days have been packed full with exciting, new and wonderful events, as well as some strong leaps forward in the writing that I am here to do, all I can seem to think of at this moment is the crunch of Cape Cod Potato Chips. I don’t know if that’s because I am hungry or because I feel strongly that these may be the best chips on earth, but I can’t get them off of my mind. The company calls them “ridiculously good chips” and I have to agree. Being on the same island with them is like living in a state of constant torment.  Growing up on Long Island where potato chips are considered good only if they can hold up to the many dips that we love or of they can still be detected after being crushed inside of a sandwich or a cream cheese bagel, I wonder what would have happened if these bad boys had ever found their way into my families cupboard. They were always considered pricy, imported perhaps, so this was never an issue.

Make no mistake though, this is not the first time I have sampled these crispy wonders, it’s just the first time that I managed to put the whole picture together. For someone who doesn’t eat much junk food, I finally understand why like an addict, I am now consumed with where and when I will be purchasing the next bag. When I was a child we would visit my aunt on Cape Cod. She always had a bag of these perfectly prepared potatoes ready with deliciously cold onion dip. We weren’t allowed to eat chips and dip unless it was considered a special occasion back then. So imagine if you will, the joy running through my little eight-year-old body when I found out that every day is a special occasion on Cape Cod! Recently, I spent some time in Prague and every few days the master puppeteer that I was studying under would put a bowl of potato chips on the table. Oh sweet heaven I would beg for them to be moved out of my reach because that taste was so familiar and oh so satisfying.  What is it about Kettle Chips?

Now back on The Cape, just a few days ago, I treated myself to a bag of Cape Cod Potato Chips recalling how much I loved them as a child. I thought the bag would last me at least the week. Instead, I found out that I was the only weak thing happening concerning that bag of chips. I ate the entire giant bag in one sitting watching a movie that I don’t even vaguely recall. What I do remember are those delicious chips. The satisfying crunch, the delicious taste of salted cooked potatoes and how equally full and depressed I was when I hit the bottom of the bag.  Next time, I’ll have to buy the small bag.

Who’s That? Can I Meet Him?

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Jean Marie Keevins (Playwrite, Producer and Puppet Artist) and Kevin Stanton (Painter) outside of Stanton's Barn/Studio in Nantucket, MA.  Photo by Kathy Kelm of NISDA.

Jean Marie Keevins (Playwright, Producer and Puppet Artist) and Kevin Stanton (Painter) outside of Stanton’s Barn/Studio in Nantucket, MA. Photo by Kathy Kelm of NISDA.

Several weeks ago while sitting at a picnic table at the Harbor Cottages of NISDA (Nantucket Island School of Design & the Arts) where I am in residence, I was speaking with the Artistic Director, Kathy Kelm, about arts on the island. I came to the island expecting that it would live up to it’s reputation of being over run with artists. But so far, that’s not what I am finding. I have been to a few gallery openings and met a few painters, photographers, musicians, poets and instillation artists as I’ve moved along, but I’ve only met one or two artists that really blew my mind. I was lamenting to Kathy that while I feel that I have made many new friends on the island and perhaps met a few future colleagues, I haven’t found any real collaborators. I see the talent that surrounds me and I am grateful to be inspired by it, but there is something missing for me. So, as she does, she started looking through her pile of papers for a connection and in it, I saw the flyer. “Who’s that”? “That’s Kevin Stanton. He’s wonderful”. “Can I meet him”? And so it began.

Earlier this week, after coordinating the meeting, Kathy generously drove me out of town and down the long, bumpy dirt road that led to the barn where Kevin paints, and paints and paints. We pulled into the driveway and in front of us was an old rundown barn covered on the outside with amazing art and inspiring pieces of driftwood (something that I confess to being a total sucker for). Kevin, a smart, sweet, unassuming, funny young guy works all summer long in this barn and thank God he does, because this guy paint. After taking the requisite photos for future press (included here), Kathy took off and left Kevin and I to talk art. For the first time since I’ve been on the island I thought, “now this is guy I could work with”! His work is thoughtful, interesting and forward thinking. If you ask him a question, he has an answer. Even though much of his work is instinctual and clearly based on memory and sensory, it is also thoughtful and educated. When we were talking about process and getting into one’s work, Kevin described the zone, the same way I would. “I just go”. I totally get this. You have an idea and you just run with it. You don’t think. You just let yourself be the vessel. Then afterward, when you take a step away from your work you can see all of your influences and reflect back on where the specific ideas came from. You may start with a specific intent, but then you “just go”. You can an always clean it up later.

My process since I have been on the island has been a bit more start and stop then usual, but I think that’s because the starts are typically the starts of a marathon. The kind of sessions where I work for hours on end before realizing that I haven’t eaten or relieved myself in hours. I think that most artists would agree, those are the best sessions and they can’t be fabricated. They come if you let them. Neil Young once did an amazing interview on Charlie Rose where he talked about being the vessel and allowing the gift. It was a life changing conversation to listen in on. Spending time with Kevin reminded me of that interview in that his spirit gives one permission to take risks, or at least it encourages that. His energy is the kind of creative energy that I love to spend time with when I’m “in process”. This is a man who is excited about life and I for one am excited about his work. It’s current and urban but intentionally classical all at once.   So here’s my advice to you, one human being to another. If you get the chance to spend time with Kevin Stanton, do. Listen, don’t talk until you’ve really heard him out. If you get the chance to buy a work of his, do. His work is thought provoking, inspiring and with any luck, going fast. And perhaps most importantly, if you get a chance to show Kevin’s work, please do. More people deserve to be inspired by his spirit and talent as I have. Although from where I stand, for now, I’m just grateful to have a new friend.

Madaket Millie & Mr. Rogers? Where am I?

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Madaket Sunset - Nantucket, MA

Madaket Sunset – Nantucket, MA

Last night I was treated to a wonderful evening in Madaket, a remote area of Nantucket with a boat load of history. My wonderful hostess, a new photographer friend, and I took a slow walk through “town” on the way to the beach just in time for a picturesque sunset.  This is the first time since I have arrived on the island that I fully understood why the local painters choose the specific colors chosen for their beach landscapes sold all over the island. It’s real! Their choices are totally accurate. I now feel guilty for thinking they were sweetened like sherbet to their increase sales. What their paintings can’t convey with complete specificity is how it feels to be there. The water was crisp, the sand soft, the sky perfection and the breeze refreshing. I couldn’t help wondering, “Where am I”? If this is what heaven is like, fan-tastic.

As the sun ducked behind the clouds on it’s way to warm the other side of the continent for a bit, we took a slow walk home through the tiny historic beachside cottages who’s very existence is threatened by the elements year round. There were homes being restored, homes who had made it through this past winter solely because they had been relocated away from the ocean and of course the homes that are just far enough away from the water that they feign complete safety for yet another season. Then there was the house that I couldn’t help but get excited about. “The crooked house” as they call it here, turns out to be the former home of Mr. Rogers. As a puppet artist, I could go on about the importance of Mr. Rogers in the children’s entertainment industry, never mind my own life. But I don’t have to. He was Mr. Rogers and he lived in a crooked house. ‘Nough said.

As we crossed back over the small wooden bridge and up the hill to my friend’s family’s home, our now almost empty wine glasses safely in hand, we crossed the property of Madaket Millie, a local legend. It turns out that Millie was famous for virtually never leaving the island and for being an honorary member of the Coast Guard. She was also famous for being a bit insane. The stories about her scaring the local children are both amazing and hilarious. I grew up on a street with two “crazy ladies”, “the crazy lady on the corner” and “the crazy lady in the white house”. But our crazy ladies weren’t openly carrying a shotgun. So there’s that. I’m guessing that there’s that and about a million other facts or fictions regarding Millie that I now want to learn about.

Back at my host’s home a beautiful table full of fresh homemade hors d’oeuvres were waiting for us as well as some other local artists who came to visit. What a great surprise! Fresh baked kale chips softened by the ocean breeze, delicious cheese, fruit and the family’s special dip. Now these are my kind of people. What could be better than sitting on a deck on the edge of the water on a cool summer evening with new friends sharing stories and laughs and delicious food? What could be better than celebrating life? I’ll tell you. Dinner.

We wrapped the evening up dining at a local institution aptly named, Millie’s. I smiled at the picture of at the picture of Millie and Mr. Roger’s on the wall as we ascended the staircase to our table.  Feeling like the luckiest girl alive, I was then served what would be one of the most delicious meals I have had since I arrived on Nantucket, scallop tacos. Yes, they put scallops in tacos. As my brother would say, “Holy sweet baby Jesus, thank you”. Enjoying those magically delicious tacos in the company of such beautiful people is the only thing that could have made the already spectacular evening perfection.   Well done, Madaket.  Well done.

28 Days Down

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Nantucket Sunset

Nantucket Sunset

They say that it takes 28 days to truly change a habit. Today marks the 28th day that I’ve lived on Nantucket and while I’m happy to take a day away from the island to see friends and take a few meetings in Boston tomorrow, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that living away from the chaos and incessant speed of a big city has grown on me. I have always lived in conflict between which lifestyle works better for me. Am I a city mouse or a country mouse? A balance of the two is where I usually end up happiest but that is rarely a realistic possibility financially and professionally speaking. I suppose many can relate.

The fact that today marks the 13th anniversary of 9/11 makes the thought of meaningful change even more poignant to me. Every New Yorker and people around the globe have their own 9/11 stories complete with specific moments of fear, horror and undoubtedly, love. Mine is no different. But like most folks, I prefer to keep the specifics of my story personal. On 9/11, I was moving from NYC to Providence, abandoning the chaos and craze of big city life for a smaller more intimate city and of course a guy. It was a difficult time to be away from NY and I found myself going back and forth quite a bit. We weren’t in Providence long before we moved to the outskirts of town. Renting a wonderful railroad apartment over a hair salon on the edge of a huge park we found our greatest enjoyment in that wonderful gift of nature, grass. Who knew how much we craved a tree to sit under and the feeling of grass between our toes. I think it was that move that taught me how much I love and need to have a quite outdoor space to hide in.

It is only now that I realize, after returning to NY, I have never lived in an apartment that didn’t have a back yard or a park within in a three-block walk. I like to read scripts outside. I always have. I like to feel the wind in my hair and hear people in the distance when I’m stuck on a creative problem. And when I’m really lucky, I spoil myself by sitting on a lawn that is seaside or on a beach to do all of the same and more. This is where I am the most creative. This is where the distractions and the judgments fade away.

There is no question that I am blessed. I have worked hard for every opportunity that I have had and I have risked a good deal to put myself in places where I believe that opportunity lies. I’m on Nantucket because I believe I should be right now, and after 28 days, some good, some not so good, I know that my intuition was right. I like living in a place where you can hear yourself think. I like the routine that I have here. Nantucket is in fact starting to feel like home. And while in just two more weeks, I am sure that I will be thrilled to be back in NYC among people who know and love me and who I love very dearly, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I see another adjustment period in store. I am will go back, but I will not be rushing. I feel no need to rush. So, maybe it does 28 days to change a habit or for me, a lifestyle.