Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Birthday Week

Hugging Wooden Cows: far less crazy than walking around with undiagnosed dizziness.....or not?
Photo: Nicole Goncalves

t was getting difficult, you see, balancing myself.
I'm not talking about the figurative balance of work, play, general responsibilities, or the carried-away mischief that has generally overtaken my life. No. This was actual, literal, balance.

Yep.  I'd been wresting with a strange sort of vertigo for a couple of months, along with the volatile health care industry, and getting nowhere. I easily had been spending a couple of hours barking into a phone in between the wild-goose-chase of insurance companies and a slog of endless doctors to call, since I was just a number in a vast and overwhelmed New York City system that I had recently returned to.

Mind you, the vertigo was not severe, but the uncertainty of a diagnosis simply exacerbated the tenuous situation; for once, the Wanderer's Magic wasn't working.

But! There would soon be a reprieve, because my Birthday Weekend was coming up, which was a good a time as any to make an executive decision to fully celebrate the traditional Birthday Week.

You don't know what The Birthday Week is? That, my friends, would be quite unfortunate. In fact, I think everyone should know and actively participate in The Birthday Week, by all means possible. See, I think a birthday isn't just a one day event. No, Siree. And particularly as one gets older, I think a whole WEEK (or at least a few days, by golly) should suffice in folly and fripperies and general smile-inducing merriment of all sorts. If this sounds quaint or old fashioned, then consider me the naive fool who has jumped wholeheartedly into the abyss.

To be fair, The Birthday Week is not some old family tradition I'd been inherently thrust into. This thing was actually thought up about four or five years ago, and if you've had the wherewithal to have read about these strange journeys here, you'll probably have stumbled upon my most illustrious Birthday Week in Pennsylvania,. That shindig happened last year--a high time with handmade food with folk artists, a good old-fashioned fiddler's camp, and horses galore. The shenanigans then spilled over into last year, in Vermont, where I ate ice cream in the forest and had a bevvy of mountain men make me birthday dinner.   This year, I promised, would be of the same caliber.

I wouldn't be disappointed. My partner-in-crime this go-'round stepped up in the form of talented young furniture builder, designer, and refurbisher-- the founder of The New England Girl--Nicole Goncalves. I'd met Nicole online, through our mutual love of old things and sustainability. And let me tell you, this gal was impressive. Not yet in her mid-twenties, she already had a business of building things in a male dominated industry. She was no shrinking violet when it came to completely creating something out of scrap lumber, wielding heavy equipment, or restoring furniture. She had a love for old-world living, and was vivacious and highly skilled, so much so that her talents had recently gotten her onto the T.V. show "Flea Market Flip"--how's that for accomplishment?

At that age, I don't think I even knew what the heck I wanted to do, but here was this young lady with complete ethics and (having seen her in action), the professional confidence to tell people twice her age why they should be dealing with her when it came to building or refurbishing ANYTHING. She was also possibly the most self-scrutinizing person I'd known, adhering to an austere and high work ethic. To boot, she was kind, generous, and funny, but she could also be spontaneous and petulant--loving more than one project or interest, and jumping in wildly. Oddly, much of her outlook on life reminded her of my younger self--both mischievous and enterprising, but also highly detailed, with an old-wisdom sense of being. We also seemed to love the same things to the point it was strange. On more than one occasion, I found myself turning to her and saying "I swear I'm looking at myself in a parallel universe about 15 or 20 years ago!"

When she mentioned sh wanted to meet me for some time, I hopped at the chance because: 1. there was traveling involved, of course and  2. it allowed me to get the heck out of Dodge, and away from a stifling city and this strange sense of illness and ill-at-ease dealings with insurance companies and  3. did I mention there was TRAVEL involved?

I hopped the train, literally, the next day--this Birthday Week would be in Connecticut....and after two hours of luscious green-scapes, old white washed Victorian-aged barns and stone farmhouses, quaint and lustrous ponds surrounded by fruit trees, and the calling of denizens of crows, bellowing of cows, and even a passing of the Appalachian Trail, my heart was full and I felt like the same old happy traveler I normally was.

I hopped off in Wassaic, NY, and was greeted by my lovely young friend, and we gushed like gabbing school girls. Without hesitation, she chaperoned me through Massachusetts, and then Connecticut, boasting along the way that I could say I'd been through THREE states in a matter of hours. That was, indeed, some feat. With no complaint, she generously served as an impromptu tour guide, and we hit all sorts of hillside towns, antique stores, art havens, and little farmer's wayside stores. It was the same rural paradise I'd been to in dozens of states, and yet I couldn't lap it up fast enough.

Small town charm....yes, please!

Mountain town living....

 You can't help but find curiosities everywhere...apparently, bacon IS the universal ingredient!

After several hours of this, home beckoned, and hers boasted shaker style wood floors and beams, and farmhouse charm, to boot. The dining room had a 12 foot long raw wood table, which Nicole created herself, and the place was decked out in vintage and antique pieces that spoke to ghosts of an old Adirondack time alongside a Victorian era. It was genteel mountain-man and 60's plucky cowboy, with a dash or Amish woodwork ingenuity, all rolled in one, and it was brilliant an beautiful.

The back held possibly the most amazing deck or, rather, the view from the deck was amazing; the back of the house was built over a jutting, gradual slope and all around, there were 30 foot evergreens and lush forest. Somewhere in a lower valley, there was a fire pit. Off to the side, and ancient wood chicken coop grew moss on it's roof. I was in love.

How to get to a place like this? It was a topic of conversation for many days. The unfortunate part was that Connecticut, though beautiful and historical, was the sort of place that courted the high-denizened folk, not the working-class stiffs, of which I was solidly a part of. I simply wasn't sure if my humble soapy-farm-bee-teaching roots could sustain in such a glossy place.

Still, there was so much to see and do, a fine birthday week of friends, and quiet little artist havens, tiny towns, large fields and even a trip down memory lane by having quality ice cream, just like when I was in Europe!


photo: Nicole Goncalves

I also chanced on seeing Nicole's shoppe, a fine beauty of a thing that housed her clever creations--she was certainly a mistress of her craft.There were wooden things of ever ilk, accompanied by vintage and antique dishes, cookware and nostalgia, tucked in between. One got a sense of the old mixed with chic and ingenious touches; I'd certainly recommend her hip and lovely creations for old-world lovers and heirloom enthusiasts.

Nicole's hand constructed sign shows off her talent and versatility...

Beautiful antique vases sit amongst old painted pine cabinets...

Vintage refurbished Hoosier cabinet shows off vintage whimsies....

By the end of my stay, there were tentative plans made, and a whole new business idea hatched....

But those would be put on hold once I got back to New York City, because everything I was grappling with, there, was about to come hurtling headlong into me......

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Lost Files: Summertime

Somewhere between the exciting workshop moments of Springtide, and The Birthday Wish, there was a whole slew of madness happening in Summertime.  That unfortunate step-child of the seasons is oft-ignored not so much out of malice, but because THE OUTSIDE WORLD was calling and....well...the OUTSIDE world that sings to travelers such as myself writing INSIDE never seem to mix well. When you are the wandering, farming sort, outside is THE place to be.

So now I will tell you that tale of the hearty Summer quarter, as part of a journey that lead me to places even I never expected to take.....

New York is the name of the game, Friends. I had returned to The Leviathan for purely selfish reasons, to be fair: booted away from various writing dream jobs, and not satisfied taking a simple paper pushing or cashiers mettle, I returned to the heart of it all, trying to suss out my first love: performing arts. I left this place long ago, chagrin and broken-hearted at a city that seemed unyielding.

This journey was somewhat different, though. I had come with a van-full of pretty things, soaps and honey and clocks and other sundries of whimsical charm. I still had fun and helpful friends all around, too, and they got me into a circus-sized heap of vending venues and other shenanigans that were fine and varied as a country fair.

And so the Summer went this way,  for a spell: meeting other vendors and carousing with good old friends, and meeting new, interesting, and creative people through vending circuits. As was wont of me, I also organized a few of these events, as well!

Heck, we even had a few professional photographers come by and take photos!

The fun initially began with my backstory creative friends: belly dance and creative colleagues Karen and Debbie, who also vended all around New York and New Jersey helped me join the vending bandwagon!
Here, I'm in NJ for Woofstock, where proceeds to to furry friends--a double win, in my book!

Check out those lovely Beyond Vagabond organic soaps!

Next, it was off to NYC, to help create a large open marketplace in a schoolyard...

Here I am playing MC. Since I'm used to MCing various performing arts venues, this felt right at home...
Photo: Mo Gelber

Photo: Mo Gelber

 I was lucky enough to meet Mo and fellow photogs Geo Gellar, wandering and creative spirits like myself. Whilst not sure how they caught wind of our funny little gypsy event, I was glad to know them: apparently, they shoot NYC street art, and Geo films the interesting people of New York, as well.
They are free thinkers and wizened spirits, and it was quite a treat to meet them.

Geo and I in conversation

Beyond that, the festivals were quite the hootenanny of arts, crafts, and fabulous fun faire....

Starr, organizer of the outdoor festival (L) and Karyn, my vending friend (R)

African clothing designers with Nyla (L), a fabulous young singer at the festival....

Nyla graces a makeshift stage....

And so, the Summer went. Beyond this, there were fabulous reunions with the gaggle of my New York City friends...dancers, writers, and general merry-makers that I had missed or forgotten I missed. It was pure bliss, indeed.

Suzanne, my former dance troupe-mate, was visiting herself--she'd moved to Arizona, but we were lucky enough to see each other!


Former dancer/actress for my troupe, Liz and dance aficionado and professor, Frank and I ham it up for the camera!

I have many lovely ladies as friends (thank you Barb, Nancy, and Pam)!

I realized though, one thing was missing: try as I might to muster up enough chutzpah for the performing arts and such, I had no heart to pummel my way through a strange world of acting fair...a land for the young and pretty and oft-narcissistic. I loved acting, I loved writing--heck, I've even directed a dance troupe--but I had found it quite maddening to navigate that tightly wound short-sighted world. I wasn't sure if it was with the passage of time, and so many glorious, grandiose, or heart-rending events, but my interest in performing seemed more subdued somehow. Certainly, I loved the art of creating art, but the politics of it dissuaded me; I was more interested in trying to create pieces and reach people based on talent. But everyone was telling me, more than ever, I was looking at a business that was more and more mired in appearances. I had just been gone for three years meeting spirited people from all walks of life doing amazing and ingenious things in wide open swaths of land. These people were genuine, honest, hardworking people not willing to sit on their laurels and expect some notion of beauty to be their calling card. And so coming back to a swanked out city in which normal conversations revolved around what was HIP, TRENDY, COOL, just left me blinking my eyes.

Sure, those people have a right to their opinions, it just simply wasn't mine, and I suddenly wasn't quite sure how to negotiate the childhood dream to the practical day-to-day living in a place so utterly foreign to me, I couldn't make heads-or-tails of it.

In the meantime, in order to keep my sense of spirit, I was making things...beautiful things, that I wanted to send to new homes:

I was also contemplating new videos and new adventures...even books. I held a short and somewhat successful little fundraiser to get a book of all my adventures published, and which left me humble and big-hearted at all the love coming from friends and strangers alike.

But I was confused. What was I supposed to be doing? My heart belonged to performing and to an olden way of living. How does one merge that seamlessly? Was I doing to much, too little?

And there would be other things to consider, too...within a month of returning to the city, I would start having strange symptoms, sudden wobbly-wooziness that sprang, seemingly overnight, out of nowhere. This vertigo-ishness would change would a trip to Connecticut, and other strange winding stories...

And those stories shall be forthcoming soon....

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Birthday Wish

Photo By Geo Gellar

It has been a long time--too long--since I have written here. Today might be as auspicious a time as any to do so; it is my birthday today. Since my last journey story there has been much--too much--happening. Shades of light and darkness have become overwhelming almost.

I am old enough now that birthdays are a time of reflection. I'm not sure how well or true I should feel about this, mostly because I feel that something is.....missing.

Sure, every year is a story of highfalutin', ramshackle adventures. Four years ago, when I started this crazy journey, there was a whole arsenal of surprising events that would leave one breathless. In some ways, that has never changed.  However, behind the scenes, there was another truth the story. I was leaving a life, and a man, that had broken my heart.

My life wasn't working. I was too sensitive and too tired to be working in an expensive an punitive city as loud and as brash as New York City. While I carried a torch for performing arts, I was having a devil of a time figuring out how to make it all work for me, while having to answer to someone who had changed from a helpful life partner to someone utterly a stranger.

So I was leaving.

Along the road, I had met a million beautiful faces: the sort of folks that I could imagine calling on the phone, getting together over Saturday potluck, and doing the random fun things that a kinship of friends do.
But I was leaving them, too.

I had seen a hundred different beautiful sights, epic sunsets across hundreds of pastures in a dozen states. Forests so old and elegantly haunted as to inspire a million children's wayward fairy tales, denizens of houses so old and beautiful they could make you cry--or make you curious as to each history that whispered within their walls. I have waterfalls, and heard owls in the mountains, and seen swans and herons in peaceful lakes. I have held baby sheep, goats, small donkeys. I have ridden and hugged a million equines. My soul has been full......
But I was leaving.

And pretty soon, there was that slight twinge of acknowledgement: every single person I know or care about is, almost universally, a long distance phone call. Every experience both a reward and an immediate puff of memory.  I have no particular place to park my shoes and, while that sort of life would seem to spark envy in some--for the vagabond, "the grass is always greener" would likely be simply someone to meet them at the end of a long day, in a humble little house. It will be a place where someone will listen to their stories, or hold their hands, and where good food and kinship is struck.

And indeed, if you thought me a fine and fair independent maiden, think again. Sure, I'll wrestle a horse and get myself dirty and bruised in the name of adventure, but I would park myself (and almost did) for a fine writing or farming or performing arts dream job, and a kind and funny person to love. A passel full of warm and creative friends wouldn't hurt either.

I suppose it came full circle--back to writing--that the notion of it all hit me.See, when you are writing a book about your family's third generation beekeeping, do you see all those old stories written out in front of you. And when I did, all I could keep thinking was "who do these stories get passed down to?" I sometimes stare at people with small children and indeed, there is a strange twinge there, and a place where the heart cracks when I think that there would have to be a bit of repairing to do if I am to mend a heart torn by relationships.

Until then, there are other interesting stories to pursue, and other goals to start. Perhaps it is time to find a foundation for this old tree woman, whose roots are far too stubborn to rig themselves too deeply into the earth--which is a strange notion, indeed, for a child born under the Earth sign of Virgo. Then again, I've always been the contrary, unpredictable sort.

But know this much is true: when you ask a vagabond what they want for their birthday, The Birthday Wish is likely this: a place to call home.