Passages, Chapter 4, Maryanne

This is the second alternating chapter. As suggested by poet and reader Richard Spiegel, I’ve added information and clues to each chapter to illuminate further both characters and the overall story. In honor of Tuesday being Election Day, I’m including two songs from the late 1960s-early 1970s that would have been heard by Martin and Maryanne. The first, “Ruby Tuesday,” by the Rolling Stones, refers to a woman who won’t be defined or limited by others, (I’d wanted to include “She’s A Rainbow” for its psychedelic style, but this one is more appropriate for this chapter of the story.) The second, “Tuesday Afternoon,” by the Moody Blues, fits both the 1970s and our current times.

A year earlier. . .1974

My name is Maryanne and I’m tripping in my globe, an amniotic sac which expands as I go, but only so far before it explodes? I walk my dog. In a haze of beer and pills, I walk my dog from my suburban New Jersey home to a public nine-hole golf course; colorless, on the bluff above, the country club. I know that if I fall, my neighbors will let me lie leeching life like the grass in the right-of-way.

A man yells out the window of a passing car, “Which one is the dog?”

Young and skinny, sometimes I look beaten. Sometimes I shine and men find me attractive. I turn away, rebellious.

Where to take that rebellion? With my eyes turned inward to my pain, I’m blinded by my confusion. Vibrations and small popping short-circuits shock my brain, its casing fragile as an eggshell but also heavy as lead. People pass me, images projected on a screen. They move in slow motion. Their voices fill the air with sounds. Each one is listening only to herself. The world around me is a movie. One step beyond my reality. I cannot reach out and be a part of their world. I cannot live as these other people do.

I’m waiting for the sun. I wrote that when I was a teenager. Now I’m pushing, willing it to rise. I will have my own perception.

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

In my dream, I’m playing softball in a field near a hill and country road. A large eagle circles above the hill, and as we play it soars ever closer. At a signal, the kids, mostly boys, pull out snub-nosed revolvers and start to chase me. I dodge and hide among half-constructed buildings near the field. A huge shadow falls on the field. I look up to see the eagle, descending, talons outstretched. The others run away from the menace. I wait for the eagle, which lands outside my vision, but I sense it has transformed itself into another form.

I crouch behind a foundation wall. A man comes around the corner with a knife. I knock it out of his hand, take it away.

Who the hell am I?

In a world of countless people, I am alone. It’s raining as I walk among the trees. Stopping, I touch part of the perfectness. A bright leaf passes close and feels soft and gentle; a single finger traces a clear line in the dewlike wetness. Deep races the excitement from the second my finger shakes the cold even coat of rain until the leaf slips away. My feet stir the smell of leaf mold. In the rain-driven breeze, leaves dip and sway, but in the white noise, I cannot hear them singing. The trees, sidewalk, homes, all seem to be outlined: they stand out individually, sharply, distinctly, as though someone has taken a black pencil and traced a line around them. Etching stark, fine lines into my eyes. It is like finding myself where I belong. I want to be like that leaf. But where is a leaf in the world? It is lost. I am lost.

I drive to the store for groceries. I drive all over town, delivering my community paper, stop by to talk with the guidance counselor at my old high school.

The counselor is a libertarian. He ran for “ungovernor” of New Jersey. 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. Poor Eliot goes insane but saves the day by turning to his advantage the opposition of those corrupted by greed to do what he wanted in the first place: to help them. I 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 indignation. At the realness of the moment.

He’s like the character in how he reaches out to the lost like me, how he is different but has fashioned a role for himself in a small, traditional town.

My little town is a white suburb of a long-established city which was the scene of a “race riot” in the late 1960s. The city’s antique train station is heavily in use, along with its many-windowed modern library beside a park with towering oaks. A black part of town is hidden from tree-lined streets with Victorian mansions. Since the riot, all-white neighborhoods are changing population to black.

A Molotov cocktail through a back window set on fire one of the downtown bookstores. I worked in the new store during and after college. The store’s bookkeeper and her daughter, my friend Sally, live in the city in a modestly middle-class once white but changing neighborhood.

Sally invites me to a party at her neighbors. In the dark living room, one candle in a bowl, the stereo plays psychedelic music. White and black kids listen to Santana, smoke pot, drink Kool-Aid which we joke about being laced with LSD. I don’t smoke pot, but I drink the Kool-Aid. No effect. Or maybe I wouldn’t know, my brain does its own trips without drugs. Someone hands me Mao’s Little Red Book.

We talk about the killing of a young black man in a nearby town. Going home after dark, crossing a parking lot challenged by an officer, he ran away and was killed. Recently, a policeman in the city was ambushed, murdered in an empty church lot. The police accused the BLA. A young black man in the city specifically. The black kids say no. I believe them. Sally says she thinks they know who did it.

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.

New York City is interesting. Didn’t get lost!

On the way home, I pick up the car at the train station and turn on the radio. Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.” The song doesn’t say living “in the city,” it’s “for the city,” it’s about the dream and how it can be subverted and dangerous, but the dream still drives you.

One publishing company calls. I’m offered a job typing. I type with random success. What am I to do with my college degree?

I’m upset at inaccessibility of the professions. I know I am going to get old, and I won’t even care about my dreams. I’ll never get the chance to write a play, or have a book published, or travel to Paris.

Would it help if I reinvented myself?

I think about changing my name. More than a pseudonym. My father wanted to call me Mary Ann after a character in a book. My mother thought Marian was better, as in Maid Marian. Marnie was my parents’ third choice for a name. She’s the troubled woman in Alfred Hitchcock’s creepy movie. I don’t think my parents saw the movie, but in any case, the name became popular. Marnie means “from the sea.” And they both wanted to live by the sea. The compromise was Maryanne.

I think I want to be called Valmarie. Val, for short.

That sounds courageous.

The books I’m reading. Why? The Way of the Sufi. Journey to the East. We make a fetish out of being wise: Confucius, Castañeda’s “Don Juan,” Siddhartha. All men. Amen. If the world was once matriarchal, have men been compelled to rebuild a world concept and reinterpret everything?

Now we have endless stories of men as “heroes.”

Women, in our distant pasts, might have put our feet squarely on the earth and our heads into the universal flow, and though we have no specific memory of what we knew then, archetypal imprints remain deep in our unconscious.

“Deep in our unconscious.”

Oh yes.

What a grab-bag phrase.

Mother Earth! We’re eating the earth’s power. Musky mung sprouts. This bean growing is the result of a Simon and Schuster salesman sending me three books: Journey to Ixtlan, Our Bodies, Ourselves which I already had, and The Beansprout Book.

All because I print a hundred copies of a community rag with book, theater and music reviews and poems on a mimeograph machine in the basement. I’ve also been trying to help publicize the works of an artist who lives nearby. Emmy was born in Moravia, studied in Vienna, learning the Old Master style and lithography, and had to flee that city with her husband when the Nazis came in. They stayed in India during World War 2. While there, she was introduced to Gandhi. Eventually, he allowed her to do life sketches. She painted a life-sized painting of him crossing the sea from Africa to India. She tells me of the epiphany of discovery in later life as she learned new techniques, how to use found objects and acrylics instead of oil. Some of her paintings depict factories at night, the romance of industry popular in the 1930s, others are scenes of people dancing outside in circles. All have her brash and sure style.

Spring.

I haven’t touched another person in months. Except for Robbie who lives on my street. A hug now and then, a squeeze of affection, desperate dry humping.

I am twenty-three and living with my parents. He is twenty-one and living with his parents. He is the crazy one. Everyone says.

My younger brother has a job and his own apartment. Our parents helped him finance a car. They won’t let me borrow the car in the evening after work to do volunteer work at the local theater. I joined the theater group for the company of human beings. To be around creative people. I did get tickets to see the “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” at the playhouse. My mother will go with me.

Sally is writing fantasies set in local diners. People are good, warm-hearted, but live in a cold, sterile world. The only hope we have is to reach out to one another.  

I have a headache that goes away when I write.

I’m reaching out.

Is anyone listening?

Summer.

I visit Emmy in the hospital, frail and pert by the window as she presides in bed telling me stories from her childhood. Bright, breezy stories. She’s disappointed I don’t laugh more at her stories. How can I hide my worry seeing her like that? This woman who charges the walls of her home with electric paintings, vibrant, dancing, joyous.

Emmy was apparently a member of the privileged class. That was long ago. Still, she smiles, and she means it, she’s one of the survivors.

She took her paintings, the ones she could easily transport, and began a new life. How can I escape? I’m paying my parents’ a meager rent from my savings. My former psychotherapist, Dr. Leo Walker, is sending past due bills, but I have no money. I wonder if I can claim bankruptcy. That wouldn’t be fair to him. Somehow, I must earn the money to pay him.

My Psych friends took jobs with the state Probation and Parole departments. Some have gone on to graduate school, either working full or part-time.

I hear from child protection services that I’ve been scheduled for a job interview.

On a damp cloudy Tuesday, I walk into a government building. Weeping drifts down the empty hallway. I hesitate, look at the paper I’m carrying with the address and office number I’ve been given. This is the correct address. I walk down the hall. An open door. A man rises from a desk in a darkly furnished office, curtains drawn, and gestures to a chair (as if there’s no weeping.)  

He asks why I’m interested in this job. I can’t tell him of my own experience of abuse. I make it seem as if I’m concerned and want to help. The child psychology course I took was made memorable by the professor’s response to my thesis that fathers are just as important to children as mothers. No! he’d written across the top of the first page, they’re not. Mothers are most important! No grey areas, no discussion of time, that mothers in infancy might be more important, but as we grow, fathers can be as important. Especially if they start criticizing and beating you.

The interviewer tells a horror story of child abuse. He asks me what I would do about it. My answers seem to amuse him in a macabre way, as being unable to stop suffering is one of the lessons we must learn. He explains child services workers must work with the abusers and try to persuade them to accept help.

“Do you think you can do the job?”

Given my temper and my history, I doubt it. I want to lash out at that parent. To get that child away from her. Sometimes the best thing is to be taken away from your parents. I wish it had happened to me.

He says, “You hear that young man crying in the room down the hall?”

I nod.

“He thought he could do it.”

Is that what I want? A life in bureaucracy, years of drudge work not making people’s lives better? So that I can have a place to live.

August. A knock on the door at 7:30 a.m. An older couple, friends of Emmy on the doorstep, are the message.

“Emmy died last night.”

I imagine them being with her. The long wait ’til dawn to come here.  

“We’d like you to write her obituary for the local paper.”

I will. I feel inadequate to the job. How can I describe her flight from hatred and destruction and her indomitable spirit rising above them? Are they revealed in a listing of places and accomplishments?

I hand-deliver the obituary to the Central Jersey paper before noon.

In the world? News bulletin. President Nixon is close to resigning.

Watching TV. Watergate hearings. Cast of characters, personalities, allegiances, betrayals. Nixon is flailing, talking to himself. Power can make you crazy, loss of power can, too.

Watching TV. PBS shows, cinematic productions with British actor Ethan L. in major roles.

The way he moves his hands, the inflection of his voice, I am captured between the two. I follow his movements in time and space, cues and clues that I can feel. Like a hunger that has always existed, as though waiting for this moment.

He seems to me to be the man, the woman, the father, the mother, the lover I have always wanted. I conceive of him as round and soft, and watch his eyes half closed, suggesting, thinking, caring, misunderstood, misunderstanding, and understanding too much. I turn on the television and see my brother stare back at me. Ethan L. reminds me of my brother when he had the round, open face of a young boy. The little boy look, the older man, the alluring female, which in swift combination fall between —–:

charms me and threatens to end my ambivalence toward men. I stare at him as if we are alone in the same room. He is self-effacing and immodest at the same time. He crashes into acts of bravado. I laugh, knowing the feeling. I accept him happily, some harmless fantasy, someone I will never meet.

I write about it in what I call Celebrations (I don’t want to use that word too much, as though it’s sacred).

#

Also on Kindle Vella

Passages, Chapter 2: Maryanne

In this chapter, the story is told from a woman’s point of view. The chapters will alternate throughout the book.

I spring from the needy gardens of youth, coming to the amphitheater of hope, and I only know that I will be demanding, I am not going to be turned away.

I stroll through icon-strewn paths toward an image of the past, someone I knew, not father or brother, but familiar, an archetype sealed in glass as I approach golden doors leading to a stage. I see the image, an icon in the lead role, emerge in flesh and blood onto the stage, a fantasy with the audacity to take life and trespass on the fantasizer’s territory.

My passion-riven ghost haunts the theater to watch the actors take their bows and when the audience is gone, I stand behind the rows knowing I must someday be part of the ritual. No difference between waking and sleeping, the dream is always present. I walk day after day, until an aging usher in a burgundy suit turns away with a wispy smile to let me approach the stage, and stagehands glance at me cool and curious, they understand the need of people to touch its wooden eminence.

Opening the door I slip inside, not knowing what I will find. A security guard steps into the hallway and asks what I am doing, and I leave again to pass through image-postered paths, scanning them for a sign that will tell me what I am doing.

Voices, and there he is, walking from the stage, talking with the stage manager, looking as he does in the movies and on TV, he is beautiful. He asks, what did you want to say to me? I can’t speak. The lights go off in the hallway. Now! I must say something. Time’s running out.

In the darkness I find the courage to speak and follow his direction into another room, while he dances round the room before he sits by the light-encircled mirror, and I am sitting across from him.

His body reflects his personal drama as his hands flit about and twitch with all the awareness of an ordinary human being in a world of other people; by his hands he is moored, linked to the external world and with them he weaves his greatest illusions because they tell nothing of the truth about himself.

I follow his cues, to hear him say he originally wanted to beguile the world with his hands, he wanted to be a pianist.

And how can I ask him to place his hands on me, to hold me because I need to be held together?

You could at least touch me, I say, and the moment I touch his hand, I feel a passion that is unspeakable. I feel the elevation and violation. Followed by a sadness that is unbearable, a burden of sadness I have carried for years, which flows in a suffocating, bitter poison throughout my body. It is a sorrow too great to be felt alone and survive. I seek solace in his eyes, and they draw back, huge ancient doors, revealing an isolated hell, an endless plain filled with nothing but occasional circling wind and a singular figure. Is that him? A reflection of myself?

I do not know what to think, I have a mission on this day, and I am running out of time. I feel a heavy weight above me, and he leans down so that he can see my face, our eyes locked in a suicide pact.

All my strength subsides as my momentum carries me forward in a cradle of inertia. His hands leap to catch me. Everything goes dark except a light very close around my body. I become incoherent admissions confessions omissions on every level as time spins out of me and I am jettisoned into nothingness, I feel nothing, I did not expect that, I freak so far I am afraid I will not come back. In the void, a vital energy sparks from unknown and unforeseen love-rage. I am alone, but in the trip I’m taking I am not alone, I am a child again and he is my father, the father of my adult self, as I link to the iconic figure I have chosen from all others.

I am in a glowing dark green world with definite boundaries where light comes from one source. A small human-shaped form is connected to me, a girl in the same position that I am in, and I am her protector, her guide, as she grows up into me. I feel my blood rush like sacramental wine in the womb as I am a parent to the person I am becoming. I move to the next level of associations and feelings. Leave it alone, said a voice, and I am hooked into an infinite space of pain, infant pain, until the light breaks, and time varies and hits distortions at different places and events, and in all these stages I am aware of the archetype’s hand, wizard’s bones, his touch.

I travel back through childhood and its years of abuse, and ahead into my independent life, growing through the years in a span of moments, while I hold on for protection when I feel defenseless and for the ride when it feels good. We speed through time bonded as a double helix, flying in tandem, father and daughter, and to be separated from him at that moment would be to die.

I pass through stages to regain consciousness. Connected to my father’s anti-agent I have grown stronger. Coming to the light I realize the icon is holding me, as I had wanted in the first place. Progressed into more, and into less. Something tracks the other way. Is this what I came for? And separating, watch him adjust as I take flight.

Downstairs, I push open the door, and a light bomb explodes in my face, cupped in the hand of night. I stop at the threshold, struck by time’s passage. A man turns toward me, smiles in the hot white brilliance beneath the marquee. And I leap into the light. I feel triumphant. I’ve made my fantasies real. My reality is transformed. Nothing can be denied me anymore.

Passages, Chapter 1, Martin

This is the new chapter 1 of Passages.

Now available on Kindle Vella

Martin

I spring from the needy gardens of youth, coming to the amphitheater of hope, and I only know that I will be demanding, I am not going to be turned away.

I stroll through icon-strewn paths toward an image of the past, someone I knew, not mother or sister, but familiar, an archetype sealed in glass as I approach golden doors leading to a stage, and a performance that repeats itself endlessly. I see the image, an icon in the lead role, emerge in flesh and blood onto the stage, a fantasy with the audacity to take life and trespass on the fantasizer’s territory.

My passion-riven ghost haunts the theater to watch the actors take their bows and when the audience is gone, I stand behind the rows knowing I must someday be part of the ritual. No difference between waking and sleeping, the dream is always present. I walk day after day, until an aging usher in a burgundy suit turns away with a wisp of a smile to let me approach the stage, and stagehands glance at me cool and curious, they understand the need of people to touch its wooden eminence.

Opening the door I slip inside, not knowing what I will find. A security guard emerges from a room and asks what I am doing, and I leave again to pass through image-postered paths, scanning them for a sign that will tell me what I am doing.

Voices, and there she is, walking from the stage, talking with the stage manager, looking as she does in the movies and on TV, she is beautiful. She asks, what did you want to say to me? The lights go off in the hall, backlighting her silhouette, leaving me in the dark, and in darkness I find the courage to speak. I follow her direction into another room, while she dances round the room before she sits by the light-encircled mirror.

Her body demonstrates her personal drama as her voice resounds with awareness of a mortal being in a world of other people; by her voice she is moored, linked to the external world and with it she weaves her greatest illusions, and realities. Her voice brings it all together. Mellow, sad, passionate.

I follow her cues, to hear her say she wanted originally to beguile the world with her voice, she wanted to be a singer.

She is suddenly immense and filled with energy, and how can I ask her to place her hands on me, to hold me because I need to be held together?

You could at least touch me, I say, and the moment I touch her hand, I feel a sadness that is unbearable, a burden of sadness I have carried for years, hard as a brick in my chest, soften and flow in a suffocating flood throughout my body. It is a sorrow too great to be felt alone, and survive, but her warm voice vanishes in the silence as we gaze into each other’s eyes and her eyes draw back like gates, revealing she is stronger for having been self-contained in an isolated hell for so long, and this hell is an endless space filled with occasional circling wind and a singular figure, her or you, the staring adventurer into this ultimate desolation.

Seeking respite from loneliness, I have thrown myself into a person as lonely as I am. I don’t know what to think about that, I have a mission on this day, and I am running out of time. I feel a heavy weight above me, and she leans down so that she can see my face. She seems unable to keep herself from waltzing into hell with me.

All my strength subsides as my momentum carries me forward in a cradle of inertia. I have never felt emptier; everything is dark except a light very close around my body. I become incoherent admissions confessions omissions on every level as time spins out of me and I am jettisoned into nothingness, I did not expect that, I freak so far I am afraid I will not come back.

In the void, a vital energy sparks from unknown and unforeseen love-rage. Alone but not alone in the trip I’m taking, I am a child again and she is my mother, the mother of my adult self, as I link to the iconic figure I have chosen from all others.

A glowing world with definite boundaries where light comes from one source changes to a larger enclosure with plastic-like translucent walls. A force is beating on the walls. Threatening to break in, break it asunder. I feel the blows, softened by the malleable walls and distance.

A small human-shaped form is connected to me, a boy in the same position that I am in, and I am his protector, his guide, as he grows up into me. I move to the next level of associations and feelings. Leave it alone, said a voice, and I am hooked into an infinite space of pain, infant pain, until the light breaks through, and time varies and hits distortions at different places and events, and in all these stages I am aware of the archetype’s hand, relic’s bones, her touch.

I travel back through childhood and its years of abuse, and ahead into my independent life, growing through the years in a span of moments, while I hold on for protection when I feel defenseless and for the ride when it feels good. We speed through time bonded as a double helix, flying in tandem, mother and son, and to be separated from her at that moment would be to die.

I pass through stages to begin to be fully conscious, connected to my mother’s anti-agent I have grown stronger; yes, you can go back again and recreate yourself.

Coming to the light I realize the icon is holding me, as I had wanted in the first place. Oh Euphoria, my friend, where have you been? Let me savor the moment. Moments.

Oh Eros, you’ve winged your way in.

A murmur of dissension from the majority opinion. Hesitation. Is this what I really want? I break the shell, the spell, and separating, take flight with my newfound joy.

Downstairs, I throw the door open. Blazing marquee light strikes me in the face. I blink, stop. See her arm holding the door beside me. A man on the sidewalk bathed in white-gold light smiles as I cross the threshold. I feel significant. I have made my fantasies real; my reality is transformed. Nothing can be denied me anymore.

Passages, Chapter 3: Martin

Passages

Mary Clark

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

3   Martin

A year earlier. . . 1974

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 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, eternal, 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 kids, 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, and men and women among them, 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.

Please visit Passages on Kindle Vella. The first three chapters are free.

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.

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.

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

This is Not My First Pandemic

In my book, Community, the word “AIDS’ appears 54 times. Our midtown New York City neighborhood was hard hit by the AIDS epidemic. In November 1985 the local hospital, St. Clare’s, opened the first state-designated AIDS unit. Many of the patients were uninsured. People were unprepared for this disease, which was found in other countries as well. A true pandemic, HIV/AIDS continues to infect millions around the world.

In the 1980s it killed people I knew, neighbors and co-workers, in the city and the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. For several years, we didn’t know how it was transmitted. We didn’t know what the stages were. People were afraid to be near a person with AIDS, to shake their hands, or breathe the same air. Then it seemed only certain people got AIDS: gay men, drug addicts, and sex workers. As with COVID-19, many people felt they were not at risk. They were wrong. It killed people in all walks of life, all ages, rich and poor, black and brown and white. One was a postal worker in my building, another an innovative developer, and another the head of a major homeless services organization.

Initially, the gay community was hit hard. My personal experience with AIDS began with a young man who lived in the apartment next door, whose mother came up from South Carolina to be with him in his last weeks. I saw the sores on his legs, his wasted body. A friend had a neighbor going through the same thing, another young guy with his life before him; his parents came to be with him, too. Another young man, Frank Clemmons, had started out in community activism at the same time I did. When Frank told me he had AIDS, it was just before going into a community meeting. We were in the Art Deco main hall of the McGraw-Hill Building on West 42nd Street, green and gold motif, decorated elevators around the corner at the far end.

Several years later, I dreamed I was in the elevator at the McGraw-Hill building. Muted light. Green, gold. Quiet. The elevator operator was a cab driver-philosopher. Going up was against the gravity of my mind, coming down we slipped 1-2-3 floors. Then 6 and 7, then 17. Fast. I stood watching the lights, the floor numbers flashing by. Wondered if I should care, say anything. Time slipped away.

I said, isn’t there anything you can do?

I saw a notice in a newsletter that Frank Clemmons had died in February, 1996.

Frank had been the Chelsea Reform Club’s “district leader from 1989-1991. Frank served on Community Board 4, Area Policy Board 4, and as a board member of NYS Gay & Lesbian Lobby—the predecessor of the Empire State Agenda. He was also a strong supporter and fundraiser for the Gay Men’s Chorus and a member of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats.” He was also active in the 30th Street Block Association, Chelsea Waterside Park Association, and the Midtown South Precinct Community Council.

“Frank’s gentle manner and devotion to helping others will long be remembered by those he touched,” the notice said. “He was forty years old and died after a long illness of complications, due to AIDS.”

This is not my first pandemic. It amazes me that so many people have a casual attitude towards it. Every life lost is precious. And that should not be tolerated.