Passages, First Part

Passages

Mary Clark

Now available on Kindle Vella

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.

– Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 7

Part 1

1974

1   Martin

My name is Martin and I live in a Jersey suburban home on a road down from a nine-hole golf course where the working class plays the wealthy’s game. In a haze of beer and pills, I walk my dog in the shredded grass of the right-of-way. I know that if I trip and fall, the neighbors will let me lie by the side of the road. They might call 911 to complain, but no one will come to my aid.

A girl yells out the window of a passing car, which one is the dog?

I’m young and skinny and sometimes I look defeated. Sometimes I shine. Both men and women have come on to me.

I hardly flinch. Insults are common parlance.

I continue my trek to the open fields. I am the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. I am the rivers drifting and the big fat sea. I have my own world and many, many visions. I want to fly and learn physics and have a book published and travel. I believe life – Life – is complicated, with uncertainties and changes in perspective. I want to drown in it, rather than walk about on the surface. Not to be a trendy “celebrity” saying foolish things, superficial things. Where I can’t be a total person. As if I’d ever be a celebrity. I’d rather be anonymous in the midsection of American life, flowing with the blood, losing, winning, decaying, renewing.

What I’m searching for is communal and infinite. Like on a crisp clear night when you see the stars above the golf course. In daytime, it’s something less. You can’t get a hold of anything. It’s not like being underwater where it’s peaceful, quiet, a continual world. Everything is linked together. On the surface, people in their boats with beer cans, things are not connected.

I must learn to cope with the disconnected, the abrasive. When I close my eyes, it’s dark, peaceful, continual, infinite. Opening my eyes, I will have my own perception. I will. Can’t let anyone or anything knock away my vision. Lose so much. If people come up to me and ask: Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Or a homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual? Or a commie or a cappie? Or a socialist or a socialite? Does your detective debutante know what you want? It’s all so stupid.

I take my dog home, watch him curl up and close his eyes, to sleep, to dream dog dreams. At least, this.

I dream I’m playing baseball in a field and look up to see an eagle circling above. The huge bird plunges to earth and recruits the boys, who pull out snub-nosed revolvers and start to chase me. I dodge and hide among the half-constructed buildings near the field. The kids or men apparently cannot harm me. They melt away. I look up to see the eagle hovering, talons unsheathed. They’ve run from the menace. The eagle lands on the other side of the wall, but my perspective has changed, I can see it’s turned into a person about my size. He comes around a corner with a knife. I knock it out of his hand, take it.

Not a man, a beautiful woman.

Mid-January

I feel no pain. Or pleasure. I am a dull, grey person floating away from a dull, grey planet. I don’t care about anything. I don’t care about the birds that flash before my eyes. I don’t care about the trees or the grass or the blue sky or the big fat sea. I don’t care about the feel of the earth against my feet, the swirl of water, the living texture of a tree, or sex or the best sex in the world or beds or twilight. I don’t care about the fear I feel at the top of a tall building. I don’t care about my parents, my friends or airplanes or the stars or books or films or children of my own. But so what? Don’t read no poetry at me. I don’t care about truth, beauty or justice or Washington or spring or chocolate milk shakes or the wise men of the East or being wise which I’ll never be. I don’t care about the highways, the patterns, the order, the noise of the city or the high I get from drinking too much. (If it doesn’t mean anything to you – I know. It very seldom means anything to me – all this not caring. But tonight, bless me, I feel no pain. My brain is sanitized, everything gently eased away. I am left with a proud child: isolation. And to me—the terrible thing is I had this thing right in my head, but I can’t remember it now. Can’t remember the things I don’t care about, and the right sequence. Color. The color of something. Rainbows? The planets in space. My bones beneath the skin.)

During this inner monologue, I drive to the store for groceries. I drive all over town, delivering my community paper with its theater and music reviews and poems, stop by to talk with my old guidance counselor at the high school.

The counselor is a libertarian. He ran for “ungovernor” of the state. We have wild and exciting talks. Flareups of substance. He told me about Kurt Vonnegut, recommending Cat’s Cradle. After that, I read, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Told the counselor he reminded me of him. “I’m not Mr. Rosewater,” he (almost) barked in his affected William Buckley style. And I laughed. At his discomfort. At the realness of the moment.

He’s like Mr. Rosewater to me because he distributes his wealth – in his case, of knowledge, and his insistence that people live well.

February

I take the train to New York City looking for a job, fill out applications for copy editor at Scribner’s and Macmillan, leave resumé at Random House. No openings anywhere. I hope they notice the minor in English.

What am I to do with my college degree?

I’m writing, thinking of writing something rambunctious, flashy, to break into a career. Ah @*!

I know I am going to get old, and I won’t even care about my dreams. I’ll never get the chance to do a film, probably never a book and so on. It’s depressing to waste, if I may say so, talent, ideas, energy. It won’t matter in the universal plan, but I and many others, man, we haven’t got a chance.

I feel like chiseling a design in the walls of my room. A Design for Myself.

Redesign. Redesignation. Martin is my second name, the first is Avery. Sometimes I feel like Avery. I think it was part of the name of a steamship my great-grandfather skippered. My grandfather remembers his father taking him out on his boat in New York Harbor to witness the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Avery fell by the wayside before I was three because my sister couldn’t pronounce it. She said, Vree. I like Vree, it sounds like verity. Authentic, real. And free.

To read the entire first chapter, please visit Kindle Vella. The first three chapters are free.

Author notes:

Martin is experiencing angst, a feeling of dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general. Angst was a common topic in the 1970s. The word comes from the German for “fear” and was used by Freud and Kierkegaard.

Passages

It’s been a month since my last post. A new project and health problems kept me from working on the blog. I know my blog isn’t the usual kind of personal observations, original poems, photographs, or serial editions of novels. My blog does focus on poetry, excerpts from my writing, and book reviews. I thought, I’ve been doing this for a decade, it is time for a change. Recently, I looked into Kindle Vella. Unfortunately, much of what I read there is of low quality. The blogosphere contains much better work. I will give Kindle Vella a try, though, and publish some or all of the new work on this blog, beginning with serial posts of Passages, my latest work in progress. I’ll continue with the poetry theme as well.

Cover in progress

Passages is a story of finding one’s place in the world in terms of sexuality, work, and social action. It involves gender fluidity, childhood physical abuse, sexual awakening and love. The time is the “anything goes” 1970s. This may not be for every one of my readers, I understand that. The writing is not graphic, but some passages may be considered erotic and others may trigger traumatic memories.

I’ve split the story between two people, male and female. Martin and Maryanne are twenty-somethings who have basically the same story. They are evolving into adult sexuality as they dream, fantasize, and explore real life relationships. They become involved first with a rising film star (Simone/Ethan) and later with a hard-working immigrant (Rafaela/Rafael) in the bustle and hustle of Broadway and Times Square, New York. All the while they try to untangle their experiences of domestic violence and mental instability. As they work through these complex relationships, they pursue their dreams of being poets and useful, creative people.

Will Maryanne’s and Martin’s gender influence readers’ reactions to the same situations? Will the words and actions of the male characters be viewed differently than the females? Passages is an experiment. Some parts of the narrative are repeated word for word (which may try readers’ patience!) In these, however, often a few important sentences differ. Other passages appear in one narrative but not in the other (and these contain clues or additional information to illuminate the other narrative, a suggestion by a friend ). I hope my readers will enjoy the literature, art and music mentioned, discussed, and/or quoted by the characters. At the end of each chapter, I’ll post author notes.

I welcome any suggestions and comments.

Florida Poems

I grew up in Florida and know the state has many layers. It’s a complex place with a long history, going back to ancient indigenous civilizations and early Spanish explorers in search of treasure and the Fountain of Youth.

Florida gets a bad rap in the media and recent events haven’t helped dispel the reputation of the state as a place where people do crazy things. When I was 12, I began to write about it. What evolved was a long poem, “The Sailor Circus,” named for the Sarasota high school afterschool circus program (which still exists). In my 20s, an agent encouraged me to write a novel based on the poem, but she later decided not to take it on. For many years both the poem and novel languished among my papers and computer files. A few years ago I used much of it in a novella, Covenant: Growing up in Florida’s Lost Paradise. These past few weeks I added in more of the original words, adapting them when needed to fit the narrative. And then, I took parts of it and made this poem. I’m offering it to give people a different perspective on the great state, the elusive and always transforming, place called Florida.

Florida

Visions of Atlantis.
The trading ships of the world come into harbor,
bringing their gift, their legacy.
Sailing, circling, orbiting, we ride the tides,
before we merge with the fold and mantle of sea and sky, 
will we circle around to the other side,
     will we come back alive?
The resort town lies weblike on Florida’s Gulf Coast,
banyan roots in backland glades,
points of anchorage, where gravity takes hold,
rolls the city up each night like a window-shade.
Each morning beneath a peg-leg, pirate's sun,
the land unfurls, surfaces beneath the surface of the sky.
Mirages and miracles: buildings, beaches, marinas, 
     alligator farms, the circus. 

White pelicans mirror the clouds, 
moonflowers glow, passion vine 
and coral bells flourish, herons nest,
and a mockingbird sings of paradise. 
Ghost towns in morning glory and dust, 
carnivals and suburban malls in the marshes.
On the southern Gulf Coast, burial grounds
     of forgotten civilizations.

Echoes of Atlantis. 
Lost worlds, new worlds spiral, drop,
      rise and soar in a divine glare.

Gulf Coast’s angels’ wings and rare Juno shells,
a sea of dreams, with all things sailing
we navigate by the sun and moon,
flowing into ports of call, 
sailing with grief and ecstasy,
     the circuitous circus.

The trading ships of the world come into harbor,
bringing their gift, their legacy—
the heavy vessels of the past empty their holds
and are refilled, flowing to the future with a purpose—
we carry precious cargo: hope, love.
Swinging across the globe, in tumult and calm,
we circle with the joy of fulfillment in time,
creating designs so potent
     they shape eternity.

Copyright 1974-revised 2022 by Mary Clark

The song, “A Salty Piece of Land,” by Jimmy Buffet, who pioneered Caribbean Rock’n’Roll in Key West, Florida, communicates the allure of a place, the sense of freedom, on the boundless sea.

Mary Clark’s fiction and poetry, all set in Florida:

Children of Light, poetry novel, Ten Penny Players/Bard Press

Covenant, Growing Up in Florida’s Lost Paradise (kindle only)

The Horizon Seekers, Amazon/Kindle

Racing The Sun, The Horizon Seekers Series Volume 2, Amazon/Kindle and Smashwords

End of Year Sale of Two of My eBooks

Two of my ebooks are on sale now through January 1, 2022 on Smashwords.

Both 50% off, multiple formats

Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen

Community is a memoir of community work and politics in Manhattan during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s as one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods fights the effects of “development fever” and the illegal drug trade. Meanwhile, ambitious politicians vie for dominance behind the scenes. 

Racing The Sun

Leila Payson’s adventures in the present and the future continue as she deals with a new man in her life, her eclectic crew of friends, and a possible career change. There’s accidents, wheelchair races, and love tours. Lives are impacted by DNA matches, surrogate mothers, and cults, as well as love and friendship. For Leila and her friends, the horizon beckons. Volume 2 of The Horizon Seekers.

My 4 Kindle Books #Holiday Sale

Four of my Kindle books on Amazon are 99 cents from today until midnight December 27th: two novels, a novella, and an illustrated epic poem.

The Horizon Seekers

A woman who lives both in the future as well as the present, Leila Payson strives to realize her visions. As a Miami high school teacher, she hopes that when her students fly, they’ll see beyond the horizon to where imagination and courage can take them. In her own life, she is haunted by early trauma, a failed romance, and a more recent loss. She doesn’t dwell on the past, though she learns from it, and instead challenges herself to be a better human being. Early in her teaching career, she goes to South Africa for a year, where she meets Baruti, the therapist who works with people with disabilities. When she returns, she puts what she’s learned to use. Raoul, a student, is losing his hearing and asks for her support. This begins the next step of her journey. All the while an attractive man with a book keeps appearing at her favorite places.

Excerpt:

As Leila drives to school, she is in a world of shining buildings. Doors are at ground level or have moveable ramps. She looks at the open space, trees, and people on foot or sitting in compact pods that pass quietly. The most visible part are the people. Calm, smiling, in apparent good health, they move through a landscape designed to accommodate the natural beauty around them.

Where is this? she wonders. What has happened? A couple walk on what appears to be a continually moving mini-magical carpet. Next to them, a child rides, a child with dark glasses. Blind?

Leila presses a button, and when a portal opens, she realizes she knew that would happen. The couple pause, hovering on their carpet, which is malleable enough to form fit their feet.

“Where is this?”

‘The vine community.”

“What city?”

“Miami.”

“And um, I know this sounds odd, but what year is it?”

“We don’t think in years anymore. It’s the fourth quadrant. But if you want you can convert that to November 2084.”

“And your daughter, is she blind?”

“Yes.”

“I thought that could be engineered out.”

“We chose not to.”

When Leila leaves the pod in a recharging slip, she walks to the school, and notices the building has changed. Gone is the brick and concrete and prison-like windows. It looks like wood and glass in artistic arrangement, a peaked roof on one section holding solar panels.

She tells herself it’s a vision. A look at an alternative life, at the future. It’s not real. Not yet anyway. To test this hypothesis, she touches a glass window. It feels hard, cool.

Walking into the school, the hallways revert to 2015. She shakes her head in disbelief. Am I losing my mind?

No, she decides. If I’m able to envision this, it might exist. Part of me is already living there.

Racing The Sun

In Book 2 of The Horizon Seekers Series, Leila Payson’s adventures in the present and the future continue as she handles with humor and the right mix of patience and impatience a new man in her life, an eclectic crew of friends, and a possible career change. She and her bf Caroline discuss aliens, panspermia, and artificial intelligence. She is surprised by a DNA match and changes in her family. Leila works on her new disability group, envisions playgrounds of the future, and aids Doug, a young man who is designing next gen wheelchairs. Haunted by a terrible memory, she hears a familiar voice in a crowd but can’t locate the man who’s spoken. Are some things simply never resolved? In that vein, her friend Dov travels to Cuba to see his lover, only to be rebuffed. But the others in the group are inspired to work on that; will they succeed? Another friend’s father is injured in a car accident. His adjustment to life as a disabled person intersects with Leila and Doug’s endeavors. At her school, Leila organizes a big tent meeting to discuss complaints in response to the rumors of a renegade guidance counselor. Meanwhile, Leila enlists the erstwhile Maria to help investigate the guidance counselor’s mysterious sister. Returning for a short visit to South Africa, she reunites with her mentor, the disability advocate Baruti. And finally, driving across SA to see the native flamingos, she discovers what Doug meant when he said he was “racing the sun.”

Covenant

Four children discover their Florida paradise has many layers. They become friends in changing times, which see the advent of the Civil Rights movement and rock’n’roll. Below the surface in their family lives, they find heights of hope and dreams, and dark secrets and nightmares. And they form a covenant which is challenged unexpectedly as they reach the threshold of freedom.

From the Prologue: Echoes of Atlantis. Old worlds bloom anew, spiral, drop, rise and soar, in a divine glare. Harsh angles appear in our lives, surfaces, beneath the surface of the sky: buildings, beaches, ranch houses in the pine forest and sand, alligator farms, the circus. Mirages and miracles, stringent salt and pungent seaweed, ghost towns in blue-eyed grass and dust, piano notes played by the flowering orange setting sun, we breathe the fresh bouquet of the lemon haze, emerge to the sweet melodies of dawn. And when, beneath a bright spotlight moon, the ships ride the midnight tide—sailing, circling, in concert with the fold and mantle of sea and sky, will we come back alive? Will we circle around and make it to the other side?

Children of Light

Dia, a young girl who lives on an island with her mother, discovers a boy who says his name is La-ha-ta, living in the wild. She brings him home. A kindly neighbor, Miss Pacer, befriends them. The Old Man of the Island fascinates and sometimes advises the children. La-ha-ta is placed in a group home. He escapes with Dia’s help, to be recaptured later and held in a detention center. He escapes and after a journey through wild Florida finds refuge in a small isolated community near the Everglades. Over the years, the children’s bond deepens. They seek relationships that will not compromise the integrity of others or themselves. One man hunts La-ha-ta, hoping to study him. Another boy, Eric, joins them, but must follow his own path. When Dia and La-ha-ta are captured, it seems all is lost. If they escape, if they survive, what will their relationship be, and will one or both return, and to what degree, to society?

Will we learn to live in society which allows each of us to have a personal recognition of reality and also a shared consciousness that accepts diversity and even conflict without physical violence, brainwashing or bullying, and exploitation? The active presence of those who are compassionate and reflective is essential. One character represents the calm values of Jesus, another is the initiator of the good, another the conflicted soul, another is flawed with hard-earned wisdom, and another the constant, the “charming gardener.”

Mary Clark has brought us an achingly beautiful chain of poems that both watch and listen: the sun, the sea, the darkness, the light, the passing of time—and the people who live among them. — The Reverend Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

Into The Fire, A Poetry Memoir

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen

Monica Brinkman of Writing Chats & Friends wrote this wonderful review of my book on Amazon.

I truly didn’t know what to expect when I began reading Into the Fire. Simply thought it was a tale of poetry and prose. I am so pleased to say it was much, much more! She shares her own experiences, yet within a story of strength, determination and dedication to the arts.

Mary Clark takes us behind the scenes of the many individuals, be they celebrities, poets, artists, or actors and how this group of dedicated people changed an area of New York from undesirable to one of the most sought after places to showcase talent. Not only does Clark provide actual photos but also bits of prose, poetry and works of the people involved . . . This is truth and the reality of what it took to bring the name Hell’s Kitchen to a positive vein, rather than negative.

You will meet celebrities; many not so famous back in the day and you will find great works and such talent.

Could not put this book down and will be one I read again and again. Just loved it.

This is a book worth reading as it not only entertains but gives the reader an inside look of what it took and takes to keep arts alive. Bravo Mary Clark. You show the greatness as well as the sadness of the era.

Thank you, Monica. That last sentence means a lot to me. The attunement to the fragility and strength of human beings is expressed not only in your review, but in your own work. You are not afraid to take chances, to push the boundaries of literature and love, and the poets of the 1970s and early 1980s weren’t either.

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen – a great holiday gift for the poet in your family or among your friends

A young, aspiring writer comes to St. Clement’s Church on West 46th Street in New York City looking for a job in the church’s theater. Soon she is helping with the New York Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, which features many well-known poets of the 1970s and 80s as well as up-and-coming and marginalized poets. The memoir takes place in the rough-and-tumble Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side, a neighborhood that reflects the passion of the times. By 1980, both the arts scene and New York neighborhoods are on the verge of change. The author’s life in the arts weaves in and out of the neighborhood’s narratives, and she must make a choice between two possible lives.

Interview and Review: Mary Clark’s Community

Fellow writer, reviewer and blogger Kelley Kay Bowles kindly did this interview with me in June 2021. She writes cozy mysteries and advice for parents. You may visit her website at: https://kelleykaybowles.com/

Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen by Mary Clark

INTERVIEW

1. What made you choose to get involved in this issue, these politics?

That’s what I talk about in my book, “Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen.” It’s a prequel to “Community.” Before I became involved in neighborhood issues and eventually, New Yok City politics, I was working in arts program at a midtown church. We put on weekly poetry readings and special events, including benefits for causes and theatrical productions. The more time I spent at the church, the more I came to know the neighborhood outside its doors. Friendships began which lasted many years. The church sent me as its liaison to the block association. The problems facing the community intrigued me. How could I help? People I met encouraged me to join other civic organizations. The amazing part was the timing. Just then, major proposals to revitalize Times Square, Columbus Circle, the Convention Center, and the Hudson River waterfront came from private developers, the city, and the state. The groups I had joined were front and center in negotiating with the developers, government agencies, and elected officials about these proposals. I felt I was using my time, my skills in reading and writing, and organizing events, for a beneficial purpose. In that neighborhood, I had found my first home as an adult. The people made me feel welcome and valued. I wanted to give back. That’s why I decided to become involved in working with a variety of people and groups. 

2. Tell us some other issues you’ve gotten involved in over the years.

When I left NYC in 2004, I moved to Central Florida to join my parents. There I became a member of the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society. My parents had been active in that group, but my father especially was no longer able to participate much. KVAS was looking for a goal to pursue in 2005. My mother and I talked about what the group could do. We devised a plan to protect the large lake in the area (Lake Toho). When Osceola County began work on its ten-year Comprehensive Plan (which every locality in the country must do), Florida Audubon asked KVAS to make a statement at the County Commission meeting. Since I had been appointed Conservation Chair, I agreed to do that. I spoke about the lake and preserving water resources for human benefit as well as for eagles and other birds. 

Read more on her blog.

Community, Why Is It Important?

Community. Why is it important? How do we keep it? Through the years our bonds can wane, resentments form, and agendas become more important than the original goals of creating and preserving a better space for everyone. In the pressure-cooker of a neighborhood, whether in New York or a small town, rumors and personal wish-lists can ruin a community, no matter how great its history.

Amazon has been offering the paperback of Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen at a significant discount for weeks, and recently began discounting the Kindle too. 

The story begins with a naïve group deciding to take on the most powerful people and corporations in the city of New York. With nothing but their minds and love for their neighbors they manage to hold the line for many years.

What you’ll also find is the transformation of politics into a form of take-no-prisoners “war” as the 1980s move into the 1990s. In this atmosphere Rudolph Giuliani, Donald Trump (both mentioned in the narrative), and Andrew Cuomo began their careers. Other politicians such as Congressman Ted Weiss and Mayor David Dinkins are shown working in an alternative way.

The book is the story of my 15 years in community advocacy, and to some degree, NYC politics. It all began on a sunny summer day.

Development Fever

The city and state proposed a complete makeover of Times Square, the world-famous intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue with 42nd Street. The redevelopment would run from that crossroads along West 42nd Street to Eighth Avenue. The project rode on the back of eminent domain (I envisioned an armor-clad knight carrying a lance), along the way razing the Times Tower and raising office towers on 42nd Street. The blighted, crime-filled area would be transformed into a shining mecca of entertainment and corporate wealth.

In our view, the massive project was a spear aimed at our neighborhood. It would drive up real estate values, increase tenant harassment, and potentially force out low, moderate, and middle-income residents. Even though there was a specific zoning district, the Special Clinton District, restricting high-rise development in most of Hell’s Kitchen north of West 42nd Street, speculators and unscrupulous landlords would seize this opportunity to turn the neighborhood into towers of condo-heaven.

A few people (Rob and Barbara) started the Clinton Coalition of Concern. My new acquaintance, Jim Condeelis, and I were at the first brainstorming meeting at Housing Conservation Coordinators, a local non-profit.

The Times Square project, we agreed, would place a great deal of pressure on our low-rise, working-class, and middle-class neighborhood.

“They won’t stop at Eighth Avenue. Developers will want to build here in our neighborhood.”

“Landlords will harass people out of their apartments so they can sell their buildings unoccupied.”

“They’ll try to change the zoning and get rid of the Special District.”

Our objections to the redevelopment project itself went down different avenues. We agreed that eminent domain should be used for the general good, but what is “the good” in this case? The people who would benefit were the already wealthy. Property was being taken from one group of private owners and given to another. Perhaps in several ways this was an illegal use of eminent domain.

The group decided to hold a public rally to inform people about the project and its impact on the neighborhood.

On June 27th, the Clinton Coalition of Concern held a “Speakout” and 150 people came, as well as Ruth Messinger, Councilwoman for our district, and Andrew Stein, the Manhattan Borough President. The state’s Urban Development Company (UDC), one of the lead agencies, sent people. I took charge of the sign-in table, handing out literature and asking people to sign a petition opposing the project.

Days later at HCC, Barbara Glasser and I, with some help from Jim, put together a mailing for the Clinton Coalition of Concern, telling people we were fighting UDC’s proposal for redeveloping Times Square. We had already been to meetings with Andrew Stein’s office and City Comptroller Harrison Goldin’s office. We were working on an alternative plan.

Barbara and I talked about the impact of our strategy. Channel 5 news had showed us and others in the Clinton Coalition of Concern protesting the development plan; we watched it at HCC the next day; Gil Annoual, another member, had taped it for us. A small group went to the UDC Board meeting to speak against the Times Square Redevelopment Project. Rob was our spokesperson, then Bill Stern of UDC read a statement, then we spoke again until Barbara screamed, and we had to leave.

Praise for Community

“Local democracy in action, with its virtuous aims and outcomes, its frustrations and machinations. The memoir is comprehensive, articulate, honest and engaging.” David Selzer, poet and playwright, Great Britain

“The writing is fabulous, the cast of characters, the depth of detail, the nuance, the way her personal journey is woven into all these events, it’s a substantial achievement.” Kathleen Mandeville, Ignivox, USA

“The narrative is pacy, as there are new developments, meetings, and possibilities on every page. There’s much of a novel’s presentation in this memoir.” And “It’s great that you have put down an entire account of some years of activism in one neighborhood. I liked what you said about how you always esteemed the constructive approach over the agitationist or acrimonious one since the former is about value, the latter is often a power game with goals unrelated to the general good.” Satyam Balakrishnan, Brand Communications Strategist and Writer, India

“She saw, and concurrently worked to create an historic Manhattan skyline that wasn’t all about money and power politics. Throughout her memoir Community, the reader gets a firsthand view of the people, the arguments, discussions, and compromises happening during some of New York City’s biggest changes of the past fifty years. From an outsider looking in, it is a fascinating journey.” Kelley Kaye Bowles, author, USA

Mixed Bag of Reviews

Over the past year, I’ve read a lot of books and would like to share some thoughts about them with you. This is the first batch, a mixed bag of good and not-so-good books.

A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

At the end of the Spanish Civil War, refugees from Spain who had fought Franco were brought by boat to Chile. A young man, Victor, is one of them. He is grateful to be taken in by Chile. The mover behind the scenes is the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who has convinced his country to take in these exiles. The novel tells the story of Victor’s life from his service in field hospitals to waiting in refugee camps, arriving in Chile, marrying, and making friends, to the time of Salvador Allende’s term as president, and at Allende’s fall, the loss of his job and home. (Allende is her father’s relative, and not portrayed as someone she knows well.) Victor is non-political, a dedicated physician, husband, and father. The militancy and fearmongering of the right and the too-swiftly-moving reforms and arrogance of the left bring chaos to a once stable country. She describes the methods used to sow discord, a stark parallel to the current political situation in the United States. Victor and his family and others in the novel live in exile or are imprisoned during the years of Pinochet’s regime, until finally, Pinochet is gone and there is a return of civil democratic society. Different points of view are embodied in the characters. Victor and his wife even return to Spain, but find it so changed, so dismal, they realize their home is in Chile. The writing is often distanced, with a delicacy bordering on vagueness, but in several sections, it is distinct and earthy. Isabel Allende has been criticized for channeling Gabriel Garcia-Marquez but watering the style down to mediocrity. Certain passages echo many South American writers, but this book is a far cry from the dreamscapes of G-M novels. It stands as a fair-minded testament of a time in the history of Chile.

Dinner at the Center of the Earth, by Nathan Englander

A book that has promise changes midway through to focus on a fantastical relationship between a female Israeli soldier and a Palestinian operative. Instead of letting the story unfurl, showing the hidden, subversive lengths opposing sides will go to it becomes an undeveloped narrative of two unappealing people. The satire is lost in some sort of romantic fantasy. It gets sillier the closer it comes to the ending, which they both deserve. The more interesting characters are killed, imprisoned, or simply disappear, not “disappeared” but forgotten apparently. The only relatable human characters are doomed to die in despair or take the lesser-of-two-evils action. Post-modern literature, anyone?

Florida, by Lauren Groff

Groff writes about a state I know well. The better parts are about walking after dark in a neighborhood and a story of an old home by a swamp and near a university that wants to buy the land. Those were relatable. Groff’s characters not so much. They complain about living in a condo by the beach, they complain about vacationing in Paris, and on the coast of Brittany. They play around with each other’s spouses. One goofball takes off from her condo to a shack in the woods with hubby and children because she’s bored. Hubby climbs to the shack’s roof and gets a call that he must return to work, so of course he leaves them there alone. She manages to injure herself changing a light bulb. In her delirium, she thinks she hears a panther moving in the woods outside. In the daytime. That made me laugh. (She is by far her worst enemy.) Anyway, hubby returns to find her near death. Then there’s the long story of trying to write in France. Part of the sadness that permeates the book may come from the devastation of Florida’s unique landscape, of ecosystems that sustain life. In the end, she realizes that although she doesn’t love Florida, it is her home. Groff writes well enough, so a good book may yet come.

Vesper Flights, by Helen Macdonald

Macdonald has a cold and scientific view of animals and the natural world. I make the distinction between cold and scientific for a reason. Her nature is not warm and fuzzy. Her scientific observations are keen and detailed, and in other naturalists’ writing have hinted at unity with the world, but she is not comfortable. She admits the losses she has suffered and those she has observed in the non-human space have made her remote. Visits to childhood places emphasize the destruction of semi-wild and rare habitats. The lives of birds and animals have nothing to do with us, she writes, and yet they stitch us into place, our sense of place, and teach us about ourselves. We carelessly change those places to make them less habitable for wildlife and for ourselves. And so, evening song is the right theme for this book. At the same time, it is not sad, but realistically attuned to beauty and resilience, and dogged (to use that term) in communicating the importance of our relationship to the planet we inhabit.

The Horizon Seekers

The Horizon Seekers by Mary Clark

In my new book, The Horizon Seekers, time travel and romance play like light in the story, or so I hope. 🙂

Leila Payson moves from the present to the future and tries to make her visions real. She teaches high school, but she is more than her job and her role as dutiful daughter, she is a kind of pioneer. She hopes that when her students fly, they’ll see beyond the horizon to where imagination and courage can take them.

Meanwhile, mystery follows Leila. She is haunted by early trauma, but is it memory or a dream? She confides only to her funky, no-nonsense best friend, Caroline.

One of Leila’s students learns he is losing his hearing. She rethinks her life and occupation, remodels it, bringing in her past experiences, her future realizations, and her friends. Those friends veer from fun-loving to serious as they move through the seams of the modern world, seeking new arrangements. Baruti, the therapist who works with people with disabilities, whom Leila met in South Africa years before, is a constant presence. And an attractive man with a book keeps appearing at her favorite places. The journey begins, and the horizon always beckons.