Thursday, May 6, 2021

Escape to Walden Pond

In Search of My New American Writing Dream

By Norma Hopcraft

In a pre-COVID escape from New York City, a tough place to live because of the non-stop noise, crowding, lines of people for every service, subways, dirt, asphalt, concrete, steel, exhaust fumes, millions upon millions of strangers rushing past me, I took Amtrak from NYC to Providence, RI in 2019 to visit my brother. We planned a trip to Walden Pond.

To get ready for this trip, I read Walden, an American classic by Henry David Thoreau. I read about the fish, the loon, the war between ant colonies, the lake, while standing on the Q train, swaying as it pounded through the tunnels from my apartment in Brooklyn to my job in Manhattan. 

The contrast between his simple, quiet, solitary life in the woods and mine, hurtling at high speed in a noisy steel tube, crushed between strangers, could not have been more stark.

Walden is fantastic nature writing. And philosophy. It challenges Americans today to consume less and live more simply.

Thoreau was a bit of an oddball, it seems--which you might expect of someone who chose to live in the woods and eat mostly beans he farmed himself.  He did go into nearby Concord nearly daily, apparently, so he did do plenty of socializing.

But it was a little off beat. Here are the things he valued most when socializing: "I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board. ...I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality. There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree. His manners were truly regal. I should have done better had I called on him."

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Thoreau lived on Walden Pond in a house he built himself, approximately 8 feet x 10 feet.  When I stepped into the replica (his actual cabin no longer exists), there was only space for a narrow cot, a fireplace, and a small table. I think he had two chairs, because he did get visitors.

Walden is so worthwhile, and full of quirky observations like this one, in which he opines that the grand houses his neighbors lived in in Concord were similar to a forest creature's home, in that "It's basically a porch leading to a burrow."

Cool, huh?

He had more cool writing.

About spring:

"The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun; not yellow but green is the color of its flame."

About truth:

"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth."

About being fully alive:

"Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star."

Other famous quotes:

  • “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time."

  • “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be."

  • “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”

I find these last three particularly encouraging because I do end up alone so much that I have to suspect that I engineer my life that way, just as Thoreau did. So I'm in good company.

And I built castles in the air -- the castle of a comfortable amount in my retirement account thanks to the success of my books. Well, at least I have three books out in the world, and a memoir, a book of essays, and a new novel set in Brooklyn, where I lived for four years, all well on their way to completion. I was ambitious and worked hard and did not make 100% of my dream come true. But six books written (Lord willing)? Not bad for a castle in the air.

My dream of comfortable retirement thanks to my writing had to die (yes, it was keen grieving for months over that one), but my new dream still has to do with writing. Like the quote from Thoreau above, I want my writing to reveal the truth. Beautifully.

The third quote means a lot to me because I've adored books and reading from the moment the little black squiggles on a page resolved themselves in my mind as, "See Sally run," and my imagination saw Sally running--wow! What a moment! I decided then I wanted to be a writer and return the gift I'd just been given, to create great pictures and stories in readers' minds. So I'm glad to see a kindred spirit in Thoreau, with his vast respect for books as treasures.

the traveling writer in search of the american dream
Walden is now a state park, and people swim in the lake and sit on manmade beaches.

the traveling writer in search of the american dream
The path leading to the site of Thoreau's cabin (which no longer exists, but there are stone markers).

These are the markers on the site of his cabin, where he wrote the greater part of his world classic, "On Walden Pond." He lived in it for two years, two months and two days. This photo was taken by J. WALTER GREEN / AP

Walden is a popular spot. Thoreau used to have it all to himself, except for an occasional hunter, fisherman, or visitor to his cabin.

the traveling writer in search of the american dream
The water of the lake all comes from underground springs, so the water is very clear. There is no stream feeding the pond or exiting it.

the traveling writer in search of the american dream
A replica of his house, and a statue of Thoreau.

the traveling writer in search of the american dream
Me, asking a deep question about consumption, non-conformity, and the meaning of life.

the traveling writer in search of the american dream
Me outside the replica of Thoreau's cabin, so you can see the scale of it.

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The Atlantic Magazine's article about him says, "Mr. Thoreau dedicated his genius with such entire love to the fields, hills, and waters of his native town, that he made them known and interesting to all reading Americans, and to people over the sea."

He left a huge contribution to the world in his writing. When he died, the famous philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said of him: "The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost." How about you? Have you read Walden? Want to go there? Want to simplify? Comment below!

Saturday, March 6, 2021

American Dream: A Special Place You Return To

Fire Island Restores My Soul

By Norma Hopcraft

"Yoga weekends--I'll never manage another one." Alison, the manager of my hiking club's cabin on Fire Island, dusted her hands together.

"Why's that?" I asked.

I pause the story there to tell you a little about Fire Island. With this pandemic affecting our lives drastically for a year now, many of us have a pent-up desire to get out of the house and see new places -- or return to old favorites. 

For me, that's Fire Island. It's basically a 30-mile-long sandbar that runs parallel to the southern coast of Long Island, New York. The Atlantic breakers arrive there unblocked for thousands of miles and pound the sand with a roar that delights my ears.

The Traveling Writer In Search of the American Dream
Water horses, with manes flying behind them in the wind, course onto the beach at Fire Island.

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It can be a pricey place to visit, but my hiking club has a cabin there, an inexpensive way to stay.

The fun thing about my hiking club cabin is that you never know who you're going to meet. One summer, on one of my four trips to Fire Island that season, I attended a yoga weekend at the cabin. I chatted with the manager, Alison. Managers work hard over the weekend, feeding everyone and keeping the place organized. But they do get to stay on Fire Island for free.

Alison dusted the corn meal clinging to her hands. She was working on dinner.

"Yoga weekends--I'll never manage another one."

"Why's that?"

"This woman came in the kitchen this morning while I was making fruit salad for the cabin for breakfast. I had just finished slicing a banana and folding it into all the other fruit. She saw me throw the peel away and said, "Oh! I can't mix fruit with banana. It's not good for my system."

"So I picked all the banana slices out and put whole bananas on a plate, to be served next to the fruit salad."


"And I saw the woman put fruit salad in a bowl. She grabbed a banana. A little while later her fruit bowl was empty and she was eating a banana! Sheesh! She's a little bananas to make me do all that extra work."

Even if some people stay at the cabin who are a little bananas, I still love it and go there as often as I can.

I've been returning to the cabin for 10 or 12 years, but it was closed all last year. I missed it terribly. It's a place that feeds my soul with wildness, with natural beauty, with huge expanses of sky, sand, and sea. It feeds my eyes after being among the brick, concrete, asphalt, and razor wire of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

I go there to rest from the brutal noise of the city. I go to journal about my writing, to hone my craft. I go to rejuvenate and get in touch with my inner creative springs again.

Won't you please tell me a favorite place that you'd like to return to? And why? Comment below!

I know that some people aren't crazy about the beach and sand. But to me, wet sand clinging to my feet is just part of being in a panoramic seascape: sun, surf, sand. The glitter of sun on the water, the ability to see the entire expanse of sky -- I love it! To be in the vast expanse of beach and sky has been essential to me all my life. I hope you enjoy these scenes from Fire Island!

You get to Fire Island by ferry. 

My friend Jane loves Fire Island too. This is called un Sunken Forest because it's located between the tops of two sand dunes.

A view of the Great South Bay, and beyond it the southern edge of Long Island, from the Sunken Forest.

This is the ocean side of Fire Island, at twilight. I love to walk a mile to the next town and its restaurants, with my feet caressed by the surf.

A sunset, looking over the Great South Bay.

Traveling Writer In Search of the American Dream

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Traveling Writer In Search of the American Dream
The Fire Island Lighthouse, seen from the ferry.

Traveling Writer In Search of the American Dream
Houses on the bay side of Fire Island.

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"
I always sit on the top level of the ferry. Except in rain.

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"
On another trip, a different day, the sky and water appeared different.

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"
This was a silvery, coppery, bronze day.

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"
Another day and another mood for the Fire Island Lighthouse.

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"

My author pic was taken on Fire Island. By my friend Jane!

There's an ice cream shop in Ocean Beach. This man is feeding his dog ice cream with his spoon! My sister Chris captured that photo and also these pictures of surfers on the day after a big storm:

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"

Traveling Writer "In Search of the American Dream"
I took this one, on a quieter day. How about you? What favorite, spiritually renewing place do you return to? Comment below!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

American Dreams of a Loire Valley Vacation

Let Me Take You Away in this Pandemic 

By Norma Hopcraft 

You're probably frustrated, as I am, by the necessity to delay plans to see great places due to the coronavirus. To encourage you as you wait for your opportunity to travel, in the next several posts I'm going to take you to places I visited (before the pandemic) but that I haven't published anything on yet.

Each place you'll see in the series was an important part of my creative journey, giving me either rest, or inspiration--or both! I hope they do the same for you.

Where do you want to go first, when you get your chance? Comment below!

For me, it will be back to France! I lived in Paris for one year, where I wrote The Paris Writers Circle. I lived chez famille, in a house with a lovely garden, with an aunt my age and her two nieces in their twenties. They're all dear friends now. One of the two nieces is my lovely French friend Christelle. 

The summer of 2019, I went back for three weeks (two blog posts: on Paris attics here, and on boat life on the Seine, here). Christelle put me up for most of those three weeks! Her aunt, my Paris landlady Martine, put me up for the rest. That's true friendship. That's the kind of friends the French are, in my experience.

To give you ideas for your next travel plans, see Christelle's pictures, here and below, of her bike vacation through the Loire River valley this past summer, when the pandemic was more quiet in France.

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The Loire Valley has hundreds of castles. Chateaux galore! The region is full of history, too, as the kings, dukes, and dauphins of France came and went from the Loire Valley and fought over the castles. Enjoy a glimpse of the fairy-tale quality of the architecture at this link

France has so many castles, cathedrals, churches, mills, etc., built in the Dark Ages through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, that it's a huge undertaking to preserve and maintain this historic heritage. 

That's the job of the French national institute of cultural heritage, called Institut national du patrimoine (otherwise known as the "Inp"). It is the only academy in France in charge of the training of both curators and conservators. You can read more about the Institute on Wikipedia, here.  

"Patrimoine" means patrimony, or heritage, and the French work hard to preserve their architectural heritage. They also maintain their patrimoine fluvial, which is the network of rivers and canals--thousands of kilometers of them--that wind their way through France. My friend Cris Hammond wrote a book about losing his job and ending up on a boat enjoying a boat life on the patrimoine fluvial. You can check out his book here. It's called "From Here to Paris" and it's laugh-out-loud funny (so's mine : )

I'm sure Cris took his boat, the Phaedra, down the Loire at some point in the twelve years he lived on a boat in France. Here are more pics by Christelle:

Remember that this tour of the Loire Valley was done on bicycle. 
Hence the shot from the verge of the road.

France despite COVID-19 pandemic

The above two pics are of the Château d'Ussé in Rigny-Ussé. 

France despite COVID-19 pandemic

France despite COVID-19 pandemic

I hope this post gives you some ideas for travel plans later, and ways to enjoy France now (for example, by reading Cris's book. And mine, about which a reviewer said, "If you love Paris, you'll be swept away!"). Both books would make great gifts for a Paris-lover in your acquaintance.

Please stay careful and well. And if you're thinking about visiting France, tell me where you'd like to go in the comment box below! I may have some ideas for you! I respond to ALL real comments.

Friday, October 16, 2020

My American Dream: Finding Its Way

Brooklyn vs. Rochester

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

Someone I knew from New York City wrote to me yesterday with what seemed to be a snickering attitude.  

“What, Rochester?” he wrote, implying “Where the heck is that?” I can’t condemn him, I’ve had the same attitude, and still do, just a little.

I’ve lived near New York City, and the immense range of activity it offers, most of my life. Then, starting six years ago, I began a series of moves to places with a ton of cach
é: Mystic, Connecticut, then Paris and Barcelona. Then I fulfilled a life-long dream and moved into NYC itself: the Upper East Side of Manhattan (for two months), and Brooklyn (for four years). Brooklyn in its own right is such a storied city. I saw baseball caps with “Brooklyn” on them in France and Spain.

How Can I Search for the American Dream Here?

Where the heck, on the other hand, is Rochester? The downtown has two tall buildings and is dead at night. There is a more lively neighborhood of cafes and restaurants known as the Park Avenue neighborhood, and I’m searching for an apartment in it. But even that neighborhood doesn’t seem to have much “there” there, not after the electromagnetic force of Brooklyn.

I must suspend judgment of Rochester as a city, as a venue for the arts, as a place that fosters my creative inspiration, until the pandemic eases. It won’t feel like home until ballroom dancing resumes, and the theater group I want to be involved in (as a mere set painter, not as the superstar that I, in reality, am) springs into action again, and the Wild About Writing circle can meet in person. And in Rochester, I will be able to afford to hear live classical music regularly at the Eastman School of Music! Carnegie Hall was beyond my reach. 

I do miss Brooklyn. Not so much living there, because life was tough, overwhelmed by tons of stressed-out strangers in a brick, asphalt, chain-link, and razor-wire jungle. But I miss being FROM there. I wrote on my Amazon author profile that I’m a writer who lived in Paris, Barcelona, and now Brooklyn. Those place-names have cach
é. I’m a sucker for caché. I’m a location snob, I admit it. 

“Rochester, New York” has ZERO cache. But maybe it should have a little. It is a unique epicenter of social justice. Harriet Tubman lived near here. Frederick Douglass lived here, wrote here, and delivered his famous speech here, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?", delivered on July 5, 1852, addressing the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society.  Women’s rights were championed by women in this area, notably Susan B. Anthony, who lived and wrote in Rochester. Another example of social compassion: Rochester Institute of Technology has a nationally recognized center for deaf students.
Brooklyn had advantages. I could choose all kinds of organic fruits and vegetables at the Flatbush Food Coop, a 10-minute walk. I can’t find that variety here, and you have to drive to the grocery store. I could walk to three Indian restaurants, three Mexican, two burger joints. I could have lavender latt
és at Café Madeline. I don’t know of a café in Rochester that has even dreamed of serving them. Prospect Park, with world-class design, was a 10-minute walk. 

In Brooklyn I lived near three international airports that could take me on direct flights to friends in France or family in small cities like Asheville, NC, Providence, RI, or Rochester, NY. I could easily grab a bus to visit family in Bethlehem, PA. I could easily take the train to Fire Island or to the Jersey Shore. Now that I’m in Rochester, I’m closer to one part of my family but have bigger hurdles to overcome to get to the rest. And getting to the Atlantic Ocean is a huge undertaking.

In Brooklyn, I felt I was in the center of the world. On Ocean Avenue, during my quarter-mile walk to do my laundry, I heard voices from Pakistan, Liberia, Panama, Jamaica, Barbados, Senegal, Kazakhstan. At any given moment on Church Avenue, I could make videos for my little grandson of trucks of every shape and size and function, and long, articulated city buses. 

Here at this house in Rochester, it’s quiet. Once a week a garbage truck goes by. But I can do my laundry downstairs instead of trundling it a quarter of a mile each way.

There were other downsides to Brooklyn. In spite of my best efforts to build friendships and stay connected, I felt acutely alone. The streets felt dangerous. People were indifferent (of course they were, we were all strangers to each other). It broke my heart to see groups of young men hanging out, passing a joint, with tons of pent up energy and talent but lacking the education—and faced with racism in hiring practices—that prevented them from getting into a decent job, unleashing that talent, making a living wage, and making a contribution.  They could have run a company—or a country—but were trapped.
I felt a keen desperation in the atmosphere on the streets. I lived in a gentrifying neighborhood. As rents leapt upward, people were more and more worried about making rent that month. I could feel the anxiety in the air. So many people lived hand to mouth with no hope of a better life – and angry about that fact, and about the racism that locked them into this predicament, locked them out of the American Dream.

And then there was the dog poop. Many people did clean up after their dogs, but enough people didn’t that there was a hazard when out walking or pulling a cart full of laundry. I had to keep my eyes on the sidewalk. Which might have been just as well—looking at groups of young men passing a joint might get me in trouble, so I had to keep my eyes down anyway. Which I didn’t like. As an artist, I love to look around and notice things. I want to look at people and imagine their lives. In Brooklyn, that wasn’t wise to do because you might notice a crime. I really hated keeping my head down.

Here in this suburb of Rochester, I can smile and give a little wave to the people I pass when I’m out walking, and get one in return. We’re privileged to be living in a lovely neighborhood. I’ve nicknamed it “The Arboretum” because of the stately huge shade trees, and blooming trees, and shrubs. During the summer there were eight-foot-tall hydrangeas in some gardens, burgeoning with blossoms, exuding charm. 

So I’ll start life anew in Rochester.  I have to overcome my location snobbery and embrace the advantages this situation offers. One of them might be a sense of dislocation. Exile has proven to be good for my creativity in the past, especially in Paris and Barcelona, and it’s helping me again, I believe. 

I have discovered, to my joy, that I really love swimming in Lake Ontario. I thought the lake would never suffice, not after the joy of being in the Atlantic surf at Fire Island or the Jersey Shore. But the lake has its advantages—most days, it’s quiet enough for me to really swim without having to fear being inundated by breaking waves, as I would in the Atlantic. 

Also, in spite of the pandemic, I’ve made a new, in-person friend! She has put me in touch with working artists in the area, including a local set designer. I’m working on a novel about a set designer, so that interview will be very interesting! 

Brooklyn is a great place. I miss it, and I’m so relieved to be out of it.

How about you? Do you have mixed feelings about a place you used to live? Or that you live in now? Comment below! 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Saying a Lingering Goodbye to Brooklyn

I'm Now a Covid Refugee from Brooklyn

By Norma Hopcraft

        I went back to Brooklyn from July 10 to 17, to linger over it, romance it, appreciate the good, take note of the bad so I could leave with less painand then to leave it all behind. My life as a Brooklyn writer closed on Friday, July 17, when I hopped into U-Haul’s biggest truck, jammed full of my studio apartment’s contents. I drove that monster 400 miles to Rochester, New York.

        My inventory included:

  • 1 box of filled-up, written-in journals
  • 1 box of blank journals (I can't stop buying them)
  • 2 boxes of quilt bits to be pieced together

        I had arrived in Brooklyn on July 10 and enjoyed my apartment whole for two days—my cozy nook, my little abode, my bit of peace in the tumultuous, tossing sea of people in New York City. While I lived there, it was usually quietexcept when the neighbor left her dog unattended and it cried for hours at a time. Except when there were occasional arguments across the courtyard or out in the street. I always prayed, "Please, no violence." There were gunshots the first day I lived here, in 2017, and again this past Christmas. Other than that, this apartment was a refuge from the sea of strangers I passed through every time I went out the door.

        On Monday morning, July 13, I took pictures of my sweet space whole and complete, and then I did my least favorite thing in the world: I tore my home apart. 

        It's not something I had decided upon lightly. I had fled to Rochester, NY as a Brooklyn Covid refugee on March 14. Four months, one-third of a year, went by. From the moment I arrived in Rochester, I began wondering if I would ever live in Brooklyn again. I started to question moving full-time to Rochester.

        It took until Thursday, July 9, for me to come to a decision to move. It’s risky. My employer may require me back in the office at some point. When will that be? When a vaccine is developed, and that will take an unknown amount of time. Another risk: I’m on the hook to pay the Brooklyn rent until a new tenant takes over. When will that be?

        If you know of someone interested in living in Prospect Park South—10-minute walk to the park, 3-minute walk to the Church Avenue B & Q station, 35-minute train ride to Mid-town Manhattan—and who would qualify financially with the landlord, please leave a comment below!

        My studio apartment in Brooklyn has been a great space—in a pre-war building, which means parquet floors, high ceilings, gracious proportions to the rooms. But I felt disappointed in my life there: I had survived living in Brooklyn but I had not thrived: I hadn't been as creative in this studio as I had been in my studio apartment in Paris, where I wrote and revised great chunks of The Paris Writers Circle. Here are some pics:

       Eat-in kitchen, with a window, no less! Not common in NYC!
      Plenty of cabinets and counter space -- also rare in NYC!
      Here's where I lived. My grandmother's marble-topped chest of drawers, on the right, held lots of quilting supplies and journals. My work table is where I tried to sit and write, but usually I felt too restless, too compelled to get out.
     My dressing room (kidding).
My work space. Note the parquet floor.

        Here in Brooklyn, I had found it hard to be alone in the apartment and write. I always felt restless, like the tumultuous crowds of people in the city. During the week it was difficult to concentrate on writing before facing the commute on a crowded Q train. On Saturday mornings, I couldn’t stand to sit alone at my worktable and write. I felt I had to get out and see what was going on. The lively streets have a strong allure.

        To be able to write, on Saturdays in good weather I would walk a mile to my favorite bench in Prospect Park. When it was too cold, I’d walk half a mile to a café to write among people and steel myself to not buy a muffin or a scone. Or I’d walk two miles to the Brooklyn Central Library to work among people in a huge room with 18 long worktables.

        Since Covid shut things down, I couldn’t sit in the library or café. And my favorite bench in Prospect Park is inaccessible now due to refurbishment of the Oriental Pavilion (see my post on this decaying architectural delight HERE. I nicknamed it the Sparrow Hotel for all the nests in its derelict eaves.)

                           My favorite bench to sit and write is entangled in the refurbishment of the Oriental Pavilion.

        In the midst of Covid, in March, I was grateful to have somewhere to escape to. If I had stayed in Brooklyn during Covid, I would have lost my mind. The isolation, the confinement within a small space, the sound of sirens day and night, would have sunk me. I thank my Higher Power for providing an escape—the Rochester home of my daughter and beloved son-in-law and 2-1/2-year-old grandson. We’ve had a pleasant few months.

        When I went back to my Brooklyn neighborhood on July 10, I was immediately struck by one of its strengths: diversity. I saw a Latina girl swing her long black hair, a Pakistani man dressed in a white shalwar khameez, the pajama-like pants and tunic, walking near her, and black and white neighbors: young, old, and in between. It’s a beautiful aspect of this neighborhood.
        I spent a lot of time in Prospect Park the first two days of my stay. I visited the lake and made this little video of my favorite thing: water reflecting on the underside of leaves.

Turn your volume way up to hear my commentary.

        On Monday the brutal packing work began.

        As I packed, I found things of my mother’s, father’s, grandmother’s that I had put in a drawer and forgotten about. I missed these departed loved ones intensely. I tenderly wrapped a little nut dish my grandmother left to the family. It's cut glass, and its sharp little edges prickled my fingers. She loved cut glass and bought it as an investment. My family sold off all the big pieces when my mother died. I just have this one little dish, and I like to put it in a window where the sun will shine on it.

        As I packed, I felt nostalgia for my Brooklyn life: ballroom dancing on Friday nights; Soho Shakespeare rehearsals (check them out, they have free acting classes online), where I did research for my next novel; waiting on the Church Avenue Metro platform for the Q train; lavender lattes at nearby Café Madeline; filming the profusion of buses and trucks on Church Avenue for my grandson; occasional trips on the Q to Coney Island (pics HERE); walks in Prospect Park; worshipping at my beloved church, St. Paul’s Episcopal, where I was the only white face and was welcomed warmly by everyone while I was fully aware that if these black parishioners showed up alone in a white church, they might not receive as beautiful a welcome—it was true Christianity in action and I’ll never forget it.

        During my recent week in Brooklyn, I checked up on Mr. Kosher. Stories about him HERE. He made it through a Brooklyn winter, day and night, never going indoors, foiling all my anonymous attempts to find him help. Now he’s camped under a huge golf umbrella in Prospect Park, in Drummer’s Grove. He was shirtless the day I saw him. I talked with my pastor, the rector of St. Paul’s, who said he talks with Mr. Kosher too. Mr. Kosher offered him a debit card to pick up smoked turkey thighs for him. That experience turned my pastor into a smoked turkey thigh fan himself. Mr. Kosher may have his debit card funded by his son, who lives far away in the Bronx, or perhaps by his Jewish temple, I don’t know.

           Mr. Kosher (his real name is Hosea, like the prophet) is back to camping
            within Prospect Park, instead of spending the winter outside the Prospect Park
            B&Q Station.

         I was happy to sense a new optimism in the air in my neighborhood, Prospect Park South, which is the developers' new name for the north end of Flatbush. It's full of pre-war brick apartment buildings in which so many people live who, when I escaped in March, seemed to have no hope of  prosperity, no chance at economic equity with someone like me. I’d sensed despair, hopelessness. People were always anxious, not knowing if they could make rent that month. It saddened me. So many people in my neighborhood could not afford healthcare. There was a marked prevalence of people limping, of people using canes, of people missing teeth. Many people looked angry. They were trapped in a racist system and had given up hope for a better future for themselves and their children. 

        I tried to help by getting involved in, an organization that helps people coming out of incarceration and that meets at St. Paul’s. I helped a group through one cycle. Then Covid came, activity was postponed, and I had the lucky option that others didn’t have, of fleeing a Covid hotbed.

        When I returned to Prospect Park South in July, however, I felt a new, positive energy in the air. Now that both white folks and black are demonstrating on behalf of racial equity, people are hopeful of change. Now they feel they are being listened to by politicians who are in a position to legislate a more level playing field. They are not looking for a hand-out, they are just looking for a chance. I felt the new hopefulness. I wanted to stay and be a part of it.

        These characters in my neighborhood! The lovely people in my church! The stateliness of the trees in Prospect Park! This new hopefulness in the air! All the caché that saying “I live and write in Brooklyn” conveys! How could I not live here forever?

        But how could I not live near my grandson? And the baby that's expected in October?

        I called a friend and told her how torn I was about leaving Brooklyn.

        “You were a lost, lonely soul in New York,” she declared firmly. “I could hear it in your voice. You’re much better off in Rochester with your family.”

        So on July 17, I said goodbye to my 4-1/2 years of Brooklyn life. Those years went FAST. I lived in three neighborhoods in Brooklyn: Bedford-Stuyvesant (for one month), Sunset Park (for one year) and Prospect Park South for 3-1/2 years. I tried to milk my Brooklyn experience for everything I could get out of it for my writing: the feel of various neighborhoods, pictures of row houses and brownstones, lots of scenes in every season from Prospect Park, one of the great parks of the world.
        I'll miss Brooklyn.
        But I was very lonely there – every face was that of a stranger. The people around me were stressed by being among too many people, and I was stressed to be thrown shoulder to shoulder with so many strangers. As my friend Cecilia says, "New York is a special place with lots of advantages, but emotional support is not one of them." 

        Toward the end of my Brooklyn life, in February and March as news of Covid was increasing, I felt so alone. I was calling my daughter once or twice a day, calling friends, and then not feeling any better. It was unsustainable. By mid-March the sirens, which could be heard day and night even in regular times, were now sounding continuously, day and night. I was frightened, I felt so alone. I knew I couldn’t survive working alone from home, day after day, in a studio apartment, in the middle of a pandemic, surrounded by strangers. What if I got sick? Who would even know? Maybe the paramedics would be too busy to come and help me.
        On March 14, I fled to Rochester and family.

        I went back to Brooklyn in July, and by July 17, I was packed. That morning I got up early and dressed up a bit—makeup, earrings, a cute top, new slacks, ballet flats—I believe in looking my best when I travel so that, if I need help, people will be more inclined to help me—and climbed way up into the U-Haul, packed with the things I’ll need to create a place of my own in Rochester.

        I turned the key. The engine roared. This beast was huge, taking up almost all of a lane. The rear-view mirrors stuck out even farther. I drove, scared out of my wits, through the narrow, car-clogged streets of Brooklyn to the Verrazano Bridge, across Staten Island, across the Goethels Bridge to New Jersey, across that state in rush-hour traffic to the Poconos, then with growing confidence through vast open spaces in Pennsylvania and New York State.

        I arrived in Rochester safely. My belongings are now in my daughter’s garage and attic.

        And I’m left wondering: where’s my home? Now that I’m in a city of 750,000 people, compared to NYC and its 8.4 million and its 23 million in the New York metro area, with all the arts opportunities it incubates, can I still grow as an artist? 

         I'll be journaling on that topic, and piecing together a new quilt of my life. 

        What will I do with my one wild and precious life?  

        How about you? Have you said goodbye to a special space, a special place, special people, because of Covid? What will you do in your new place with your one wild and precious life?


Thursday, April 30, 2020

One Response to Today's Difficulties: Pausing

A Pause Might Lead to Greater Creativity

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

How are you doing? What are you doing? Write to me at norma at normahopcraft dot com to let me know. Now that I'm working remotely, I'm no longer commuting an hour each way each day and I have extra time to respond. I'd love to hear from you! What's happening in your life?

I am doing okay -- I thank God, I was able to get out of Brooklyn in mid-March, when the sirens were already sounding all day all night. The sirens were very distressing, adding to the anxiety already in the air in my poor neighborhood, among people who worry every month about making rent -- what happens now, with so many jobs shut down?

I am blessed because I was welcomed to go to Rochester, New York, near Lake Ontario, where my daughter, darling son-in-law, and hilarious 2-1/2-year-old grandchild live.

"Social distancing is so much better with other people," a friend said. 

Very true. I'm grateful for the quiet companionship.

After one week in Rochester, I caught a cold--I don't think it was COVID because my temp never went up above 99.4. "If it's not 100.4 or above, it's not a fever," a nurse told me. I had a dry cough for three weeks afterward though. 

Other than that, I've been fine, cooking up a storm. I made chicken soup yesterday, and baked cornbread, for dinner. Actually, I put so much rosemary in my chicken soup, it's really rosemary soup. I love the flavor mysteries that that tortured herb puts into cooking. There's lots of white wine in my soup too -- a generous helping of Clos de Bois this time.

I'm calling my older friends who are stuck quite alone. I hope you'll do the same.

I'm taking my grandson for walks around his neighborhood. I tell him to look for cats, for dogs, for the daffodils that are finally blooming in Rochester. The small pleasures are growing in importance as the playgrounds, library, the Museum of Play, have all been shut down.

He's learning the names of the flowers: snowdrops, crocus, primrose. He has a little-child lisp, so "crocus" comes out as "cwocuth."

I am cut off from the big excitements in New York City, like taking an acting class as part of the research I do on the theater for my next novel. Museums. Ballroom dancing. All closed.

But hearing my baby grandson say "cwocuth" takes away any regret over not having access to those grown-up pleasures.

I'm grateful for the quiet life I'm leading in the company of my family. Evenings are spent talking a bit, reading a bit. Jane Austen lived like this, and the Bronte sisters. I'm hoping that this quiet life leads to a focus of energy that results in great novel writing that I can leave behind in the world.

So there's an upside to this pause. I'm privileged to be able to enjoy an upside when so many people have lost loved ones and jobs. I thank my Higher Power and hope that people will see that they can get through everything with the help of their Higher Power.

I confess, I've also been watching TV a bit with my family. We're enjoying Shetland, a murder mystery series on Britbox. Except for one episode that I thought too graphic and violent (Season 3, Episode 2), it's been a huge pleasure. I may never get to the Shetland Islands, but I'm very happy to know that such a beautiful place exists.

One thing I can recommend to you is to enjoy Fire Island. I won't be able to go to my hiking club cabin this summer -- the cabin is shut due to Covid-19. But I have pictures for you from a stay there in 2012, just one month before Superstorm Sandy. The pictures will provide a mini-vacation at the beach for you, in time for Memorial Day. Check out the loveliness on my blog, here.

How about you? Any excellent shows to share? Do you see an upside to this quieter life we're living? Do you put lots of rosemary in chicken soup? Write to me at norma at normahopcraft dot com. I'd LOVE to hear from you! Or comment below! I'll be sure to respond.