Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving journeys of families, friendship, and so many of life's mishaps

Thanksgiving hike with buddies in New Paltz.

Sometimes blogging is all encompassing.  In between lived experience, I imagine how I am going to write about and visually represent what is taking place.  This is history from a camera lens.   I am I am the observing object and narrator.    The process is also what story telling is all about.  In the midst of the worst disasters we are compelled to escape into storied spaces, where we give or take ideas, information, and first person narratives.  This is the case in storms, jail experiences, and even during plagues.  Faced with a bubonic plague, the characters in Boccaccio's Decameron skip out of 14th Century Florence to go share tall tales in a villa outside of town.   Boccaccio's experience of escaping the plague inspired one of the first works of pure fiction, The Decameron.  It is a story of friends, pleasure, and a new form of morality, such as can be created only when facing mass carnage. This experience was on my mind as we sought to both contend with and escape the ravages of Sandy.  Over the last few weeks activists city wide have helped organize relief efforts built around mutual aid networks, which have proved far more effective than federal emergency responses.  Even modest participation in these efforts is all consuming.  Yet, so are efforts to steer away from the ongoing ravages and make sense of their reverberations and even ridiculousness.
We are constantly compelled to tell our stories even in the worst of disasters.
Occupy Sandy Staten Island
Fossil Fuel Relief Rides with Times Up!
Photos by Monica Hunkan
             In between recovery relief rides, classes, and blog posts, Caroline and I headed out to People's Republic of Brooklyn for a drink before the kids went to bed during date night last Wednesday.  This is our favorite bar in Brooklyn, a mixed space where football fans share space with Jinga players, lawyers and hipsters, reveling over bar food, gumbo and Wednesday night karaoke.  In between  Barry Manilow and Guns N Roses, Caroline owned the mic.  She started texting friends, inviting them to join.  Peeps started dropping by; more and more took the mic.  And the Brooklyn night pulsed into the morning.   Because of my kids I knew a few of the newer hits, as well as my faves, "I Can't Smile without You" and "Rapper's Delight."
We are all stars in these moments, especially when the whole bar sings along.

What started off as a simple game of Scrabble quickly descended into a late night mess of sound.
Photos by by Caroline Shepard. The rest of the blurry shots below are mine.
Caroline has nothing to do with the rest, although I am riffing on her blurry period.
Caroline rocked the mic.
            We woke up the next AM no worse for wear, enjoying just living.  The sun shined, the kids helped Caroline cook and cope.  I finished last week's blog and we set out for Garrison New York around noon, visiting the family and friends an hour north of the city.  
            Caught up traffic, we listened to Pete Seeger recalling his friendship with Woody Guthrie.  Over the last few years, I have started drafting a manuscript on friendship and social movements.  Listening to Pete recall Woody's efforts to cope with losing his family to fires, natural disaster, McCarthyism, and his own illness, it is hard not to be moved.  One hears how Seeger was there to accompany Guthrie, playing early chords, collaborating on peace songs, anti fascist melodies, journeys in and out of the military, struggles against the blacklist, and illness which would consume the icon.  Yet sixty years later, Seeger is still there to bear witness.   Keith Cylar and Charles King, of Housing Works, used to say that their friendship helped each find a new way of living, fighting, loving, and acting up against the silences which allowed the AIDS crisis to rage.  They were there to push each other and love each.  I recall King crying as he recalled Cylar's legacy at the subsequent Harm Reduction Conference that fall.  These networks of shared affinities are what inspire me, helping me move forward and stay involved.  They push me to be more of the best part of myself, allowing me to take part in something so more larger than myself.  This is what rebel friendships are all about.
            Through the weekend we ate, watched football, remembered those not with us, as we enjoyed afternoon snacks and the subsequent weekend hikes through the woods from Bear Mountain to New Paltz.  In between plans to support the Wal Mart workers, I got an email from a friend from Times Up! stuck dog-sitting, with neither car nor bike, only about thirty minutes away.  She had been up state for a week, hadn't seen a soul in days. Some years I take part in buy nothing day actions, others I stay up state, hang out and hike with my kids.  Hearing the call from the friend, I opted to stay in Garrison.  Still I was more than happy to see the workers at Wal Mart push back against  black Friday.  Their action signals a pulsing step for buy nothing day anti- consumer movement.  While I supported the workers,  I was more than glad to be there with my friends and kids.  That morning the girls and I created a fort in the woods in the back yard.  Later that afternoon,  buddies came up from the city.  We picked them up from Metro North and hiked along a route along the old Appalachian Trail, later sharing some Mexican food in the rusty town of Peekskill.
Romping around with the kids.
Photos by Anna Harrah
            These days I am hopelessly aware of the passing of time, from the thirteen years since I first celebrated Buy Nothing Day with the likes of Brad Will, Reverend Billy and Monica Hunken, and the ten years I have spent with my kids on these days.  I recall walking with Brad Will recalling our 1999 Buy Nothing Day Action in 2004 or calling Charles King when Rev Billy was arrested, or going to Critical Mass surrounded by cops, or driving into the city for the 6 Macy's Zap as the store opens, or just hanging in the trees with the girls.  These friends are coming and going with time.  I am compelled to be with all of  them, to build a community of friends, between my kids, extended family, and the world around us.  It was a pleasure to do something different with the day even as I remember, romping through the forest, exploring Peekskill, taking in movies, stories, and turkey leftovers.  I hope the kids will have a fair run of this, even with the difficulties and anguish they face.  Hopefully, solidarity and fun and care will carry them forward. 

            Saturday, we drove up through windy roads, with a blue sky, and a few snowflakes up to the Mohonk Mountain House.  There we'd hang out with my mother, the kids' grandmother celebrating her 75th year.  We enjoyed a few quiet moments, meals, and walks.  The kids and I skated, enjoying taking in the mountain air.  Scarli scooted from one end of the rink to the other, crashing all the way, while Dodi remained cautious.  I skated with them both. "Control your tricks," I advised Scarli.  Mom stood by, cheering the kids on, warming herself at the outdoor fire.  It was only four decades prior when my brothers and I journeyed with her to and from outdoor skate rinks up and down the East Coast for hockey travel team.  The fresh cold air felt so good.  Between dinner and a few rounds of foosball, we reveled in our time away, with each other in this safe house.
Memorable moments with the family at the Mohonk on our yearly retreat.
            Going to bed, the Magician's Nephew, the first story of the Narnia Series we were reading in Garrison was nowhere to be found.  Losing one's temper over losing a book about peace is one of the strap twists of living, parenting, and hoping to be a good parent.  We hope to be better than our parents, but we step backward, as much as forward, our crazi reverberating along the way.  I went to bed missing the story, which for so many years had gone missing from the Narnia chronicles, only to be posthumously be adopted as the first story of the series.  Yet, it never really fit for me.  Asleep by ten, I was up by one, with my discombobulated thoughts.  Sometimes these in between moments tell me more than anything who I am.  I recall waking jet lagged in Demnark, reading all and writing all night, alone with my thoughts.  The same sort of vibe grasped me in those early hours of Sunday morning.  Reading a print out of a friend's paper, I noted an old story of mine from the recycled sheets of the flip side of the paper.  This story about 2004 demos and arrests, from an affinity group long passed, seemed like so long ago.  It also reminded me of the friends who guided me through that process and the colleagues who did not, the ways movements inspire me, as well as lost its way.  Sometimes these moments without sleep remind us of what is important about being alive, what we need to be thinking, writing, and making sense of.  I didn't get back to sleep till five.

Nelson Ryland
            These were the thoughts lingering through my mind as we meandered back through the lush fall afternoon home after another day of hiking and skating and fellowship.  I love driving down the Palisades, recalling so many of the drives up and down this road over the last two decades between my Junior year at Vassar and today, across the GW Bridge, down the West Side Highway, past the 79th Street Boat basin with the sun shimmering in the water, past Christopher Street, and the old Keller's bar, where Dad's buddy Fred worked in pre Stonewall Greenwich Village, past the rising towers at Ground Zero, around the city, and East over the Brooklyn Bridge, back down Hoyt street to home once again. 
The site for the old Keller's hotel.
Photos on the way back home to Brooklyn.
            Another week ahead after remembering and living and marking another  Thanksgiving. 
I'll be back upstate next week to try and make sense of a few of the lessons of today's plague.  As  Jay Blotcher posted on facebook: This coming Saturday, World AIDS Day in Rosendale, NY... I'm conducting a panel discussion after the screening of "How to Survive a Plague" with director David France (via Skype) as well as ACT UP veterans Victor Mendolia, Linda Meredith, Neil M. Broome, Benjamin Heim Shepard and Gerri Wells, plus Tony Beaudoin of Hudson Valley Community Services. Hudson Valley neighbors, join us!"   I'll be there reminiscing about comrades and a few of the affinity groups not recalled in the movie, Syringe Exchange, Housing and Majority Action, whose memories are also worth remembering.  Living and recalling, acting and embellishing the story of these rebel friendships.
Nelson Ryland

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