It’s been a while, I know. But (among other things) I’ve been traveling…
Last month I returned from spending three weeks in England and Wales “chasing the light in the Celtic latitudes” – during that time of year just before the summer solstice, when the light that cinematographers call “Golden Time” lasts for nearly three hours.
I have hundreds of new photos to share with you: photos of ruins as well photos of living, medieval cathedrals and churches. And stories. So many stories about the places I visited and the things I saw.
So my main reason for writing today is to invite you to the first showing of this new work during the Downtown Art Crawl on Saturday, August 5 at the Erabellum Gallery 2nd floor of the Arcade. The Crawl runs from 6:00 – 9:00 PM.
To tempt you to come out and see what’s new, I’m attaching two digital files to this missive you can use as “wall paper” on your smartphone or computer:
The smaller, “vertical” file is from a medieval church in Yorkshire called Beverly Minster. It makes a great lock-screen wallpaper for your smart phone. The larger, “horizontal” file is the fan vaulting in the cloister of Gloucester Cathedral, where several scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed. That one makes a great wallpaper for your desk-or-laptop.
Those are not the actual files, those are just thumbnails I’m putting in this message. To download the actual files, click here. That will take you to a .zip in my Dropbox. Download the file and double-click on it, that will open the actual files. Then move them to wherever you keep your wallpapers.
There will be much more to show-and-tell at the Crawl. Please come by and say hello…
I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to those days
When I was young enough to know the truth
Now there are no games to only pass the time
No more electric trains, no more trees to climb
Thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win
–– Carol King
Harvey, Arthur, and the 736 Berkshire
For Christmas in 1955, my father bought, set up and gave to my older brother an elaborate set of Lionel trains, tracks, and accessories. In our family photo albums, there is just one photo of Harvey operating the trains, my brother Arthur looking on in gleeful fascination as the cast iron 736 Berkshire electric locomotive “steams” by; Just out of the frame, circles of chemical-pellet induced smoke are puffing out of its little smokestack.
In the 1950s, Lionel trains were the quintessential under-the-tree expression of America’s post-war prosperity. The Lionel Corporation had found a way to flourish during the war, by retooling their assembly lines to manufacture servo motors for military equipment instead of electric motors for toy trains. Once the war ended, the company repurposed those servo motors in the first post-war generation of its marquee product.
Our family was sufficiently prosperous (the family business produced ceramic household tile at a plant in Keyport, New Jersey) that our parents could afford to give their kids the very best: that Berkshire locomotive with its smoke puffing stack and whistling coal car was top-of-the-line, but that was just the start of the layout. Arrayed within the circle of tracks were equally high-end accessories:
– A cattle loader with a vibrating surface that propelled little rubber “cattle” into a plastic cattle car;
– A milk car with a solenoid-powered mechanism that ejected little metal milk cans onto a little metal platform. The milk cans were cleverly made with a tiny magnet underneath so that they would stick to the metal platform when they came flying out of the milk car and not fall over;
– The log loader that carried wooden dowels up a conveyor belt and dumped them on to the waiting “log car” below;
– A light tower with a red-and-blue beacon that rotated just from the heat rising from the little lightbulb within;
There were several crossing gates and switch tracks to reroute the train from one circuit to another. It was all very elegant – lavish, even – and no doubt very costly, but the Schatzkin family could easily afford it.
All of this mid-century amusement was mounted atop an 8×8 foot table that was actually two standard 4×8 plywood sheets to which my father – an amateur carpenter of sorts who kept an extensive wood shop in our basement – had added a strip of smooth molding around the edges and then clipped the two sheets together with brass hooks. The whole assembly lay atop two folding aluminum tables which were also de-riguer household items in the 50s.
Engineer Arthur at the throttle
For that Christmas, the trains were set up in a (more typical 50s) wood-paneled room behind the living room that was called “the playroom.” There is only one other photo of the trains in our family albums; In it you can see 7-year-old Arthur gingerly pushing the throttle forward on the state-of-the-art transformer. You can also see some of the accessories that came with the trains.
After Christmas, the trains were taken down and reassembled in the basement. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about them after that. What do you want from me, I was only five years old and this was all more than 60 years ago…
But I do remember that one morning in 1956 or ’57, the whole set up just disappeared.
In later years, our mother would occasionally tell the story of what happened to the electric trains.
One night, the story goes, my parents went to a dinner party at the home of the Connie and George Selby (their their actual name was Seligman but at some point in the 50s they Anglicized it to “Selby” – my parents suspected they wanted a name that didn’t sound so… well… Jewish).
George Sr. went by the nickname of “Dink,” so – dumb as it sounds – we’ll just call him that. Dink and Connie had a son, George Jr., who was Arthur’s age. They also had an elaborate Lionel train set in their basement. I have some vague memories of seeing the Seligman/Selby’s trains, and of being envious of how much more intricate their layout was compared to ours. There were multiple trains navigating through realistic scenery, the tracks rising and falling through multiple levels on plastic trestles. Maybe this is how the Jews kept up with the Joneses in mid-50s surbubia – with dueling Lionel train sets; the gentile neighbors who lived on either side of our house all had Lionel trains, too.
The way my mother told the story, they were George Jr.’s trains but… Dink didn’t really let his son play with them. Dink ran the show and George Jr. was pretty much relegated to watching the trains go by.
The spectacle of a 30-something-year-old man commandeering his nine year old son’s electric trains was enough to send my father into a fit of pique.
And so, the story goes, my father came home that night so incensed that he went straight into the basement and dismantled the entire Lionel layout that he had set up for Arthur, and stuffed everything – the locomotive, the coal car, the milk car, the cattle car, the transformer and all the accessories – into a cabinet. The next morning he announced that “if you want to play with the trains, you’ll have to put them back together yourself…”
Which my brother never did.
The Lionels stayed dismantled and stashed in the cabinet in the basement where my father put them for several years.
They still hadn’t come out of those cabinets when Harvey died in the fall of 1958. He was 37. Arthur was 10. I was 7. Our little sister was 4-1/2.
Fast forward with me now, all the way to 1959:
ca. 1960, photo by Monroe Edelstein
I’m in the third grade and for some reason that I will never recall I went down to the basement and got my father’s Lionel trains out of the cabinet where he had left them. Without any instruction or coaching I put the tracks together and connected all the wires and for the first time in years the Monmouth Avenue Railroad was running again. Hey, look, there’ the old 736 Berkshire, and the milk car and the cattle car and the log loader, and the crossing gates, and the little blue plastic man popping out of his miniature green-and-red gate house, swinging his little plastic lantern…
After that, the trains became “my thing” until we moved from Rumson to Maplewood in the spring of 1962. Before that move, my mother hired a noted photographer to come to our house to make portraits of the family. The photographer asked what I was interested in and I showed him the trains in the basement. He posed me with that cast iron locomotive.
I told my therapist parts of this story last week.
We talk a lot about my father.
More than anything my father longed for a creative life. Like me, he was a writer and a photographer, but he spent his (short) career making tile for kitchens and bathrooms. He was never published – unless you count the time that a letter he wrote to Macy’s was used for an ad in the New York Herald Tribune – but I’ve got a trove of his comic short stories in my basement that are still funny.
Almost 60 years after he departed from this planet, I still wonder how my life might have been different if he’d stuck around – at least long enough to see that <I> was the one who was destined to play with his electric trains.
I think he would have approved. And we would have had something to bond over, at least for a few years.
My mother often said of my father that “you were just getting to an age where he could do things with you…” when cancer dispatched his 37-year-old soul. I have only a handful of actual memories of him. One, in particular:
It’s October, 1955. I’m four, not quite five years old. The Russians have just beaten the US into space with the launch of Sputnik, Earth’s first man-made moon. One cold autumn night, my father took me – just me – out to the nearby high school football field to see if we could spot Sputnik wandering among the stars. We never did see the satellite, but the moment left an impression that remains vivid to this day. Now every time I look up at the stars… I’m back on that football field with my father.
I wish he could have been around for the moon landing in 1969. I think we might have watched it together. Oh, sure, there was a lot of other stuff going on at the time; I shudder to think what he, a World War II veteran, would have thought of his sons’ resistance to the draft and the war in Vietnam. And then I think: Maybe it is fitting that only the good die young. That way we never have pictures of them as angry, bitter old men yelling at us from the other side of the “generation gap.”
And I remember when I showed my mother my first personal computer in 1979. As I showed her how I could enter text and then wipe it off the screen with a single press of the “delete” key, she said, “your father would have loved this…” Really. He was what we now call a gadget freak. From Lionel trains to computers… we would have had that much in common.
I have been struggling of late with the whole idea of… approval. Of claiming and manifesting my creative instincts. And trying to not feel undeservedly pretentious about saying even that.
Creative types. We’re wired differently. And we go through life seeking validation and approval from – ironically – the more conventionally wired. I have spent my entire life doubting my creative instincts, even when they are clearly manifest. Like every writer (?) I finish one thing and wonder if there’s anything left. It hasn’t helped that my greatest success as a writer was followed by my most disappointing failure. Is it any wonder that infinite doubt ensues?
There was an odd little series on Netflix this year called “The OA” that, among other things, addressed the theme of the “invisible self.” In an early episode, the principle character, a young woman named Prairie, cautions a companion to be gentle with his own inner forces:
“You don’t want to go there,” Prairie cautions, “until your invisible self is more developed anyway. You know, your longing, things you tell no one else about?”
All this business about my father and his electric trains came up when I was telling my therapist that lately I, too have been feeling… invisible. It seems at times that I am just unwilling or unable to inhabit my own soul. Like there is some creature inside me that I am the only one who can see – and not altogether clearly at that. And that the people around me – even the people closest to me – want to reflect back on me… not my invisible self, but theirs.
And the soul recedes.
I realize it’s mostly pointless at this point in my life, but still I can’t help but wonder: If my father had been around to see me set up and run those electric trains…. would he have approved? Would he have seen a reflection of himself, and in that reflection beamed back a glimpse of the invisible me? Maybe that glimpse, however brief and fleeting, might have provided enough recognition and approval that I wouldn’t still be longing for it 60 years later. His validation in that moment could have left a lasting impression, much like that cold night when a young father and his little boy scanned the heavens for a dot of light drifting among the stars.
When my family moved in the spring of 1962, the trains were dismantled again and packed into a box. Never mind that I didn’t get to pack the box; I was at summer camp when the family moved – but hat’s whole other story.
Once I arrived at the new house, I don’t think I ever took the trains out of the box. By then my interests had shifted: I wanted slot cars, and my parents – that would be my mother and her new husband, aka my stepfather – told me I couldn’t have both. We sold the Lionels to a family from Newark for all of $75.
I’m sorry, Daddy. I don’t have your Lionels any more. But I still wish you had been around when I started playing with them.
For the past several years, it has been my unique and singular privilege to have photos from my visits to the UK (and other destinations) featured in “Alive Now,” a bi-monthly journal of prayers and meditations published by the Upper Room Ministries here in Nashville.
Sadly, “Alive Now” has just published the last issue of it’s ‘print edition’ – another victim of the relentless transition to digital media in the 21st Century.
On the other hand, I’m pleased to report that this final issues features not one, but two of my photos from England and Scotland – and this time, one of them (finally!) made the cover.
The cover photo is from Jervaulx Abbey – a Cistercian monastery that lies in ruin on a private estate in Yorkshire England. The interior photo is from St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Scotland, a destination known more for its golf than it’s ecclesiastics. St. Andrew’s Cathedral was once the largest church in all of Scotland, now all that remains is the East Facade, seen here through the arch of the West Gate.
I am forever indebted to Nancy Terzian, Beth Richardson and Gina Manskar for their support and patronage over these past several years. The inclusion of photos like these in their publications has provided some much needed validation of my fascination with these ruins.
It is appropriate, I guess, that the theme of this final edition of “Alive Now” is “Thresholds,” as we all pass through the thresholds of our daily existence to whatever awaits on the other side.
I’m going to go to my AA “Home Group” this morning. This is what I probably will not “share” with the meeting:
Hi, I’m Paul and I’m an alcoholic.
I feel compelled to say something today that’s going to sound like AA heresy. But I feel like I have to speak my truth here even if it means becoming the first person to ever be excommunicated from AA…
I don’t really know but one or two of you here, so most of you have know way of knowing what a tough time I’ve been having over the past year. My wife decided last – well, it’s been almost a year now – that she needs to live in Portland Oregon, where her two adult sons and her now one-and-a-half year old granddaughter live. And as you can see, I am not in Portland, Oregon. I have been to Portland at least a dozen times since ‘the kids’ moved there in the early ‘aughts, but I’ve never felt like I’ve wanted to live there. After more than two decades, I’m rooted here.
Welcome to Portland!
And as a recovering alcoholic myself, it’s hard to fathom how I am going to live in a city that greets you getting off the plane with a huge sign that says “Give In To Beer.”
Thursday night, I learned that a dear friend had died this week, most likely from complications of alcoholism. He was only a year older than I am. I think that news kinda put me over the edge…
Which brings me to yesterday. Yesterday was a day off from a new job that I got last summer which has absolutely been my salvation over the past 6 months. I like the work, it truly takes me out of myself and makes me a better person than I am when when I’m by myself. But sometimes the days off are challenging because, well, there’s nobody to talk to.
Yesterday, I felt knots in my stomach, that spinning wheel of loneliness and sadness, fear and despair. As I said later to my sponsor, I was having a tough day…
In the middle of the day, I made some calls and sent out some texts, to see if there was somebody in my orbit who could meet me for lunch or coffee. All those overtures came up empty. People are busy.
At one point, I was driving around town and started thinking, “maybe what I need is a meeting…” I had no idea where there was one in the middle of the day on a Friday. I was in town, driving around, and thought about going over to ‘202,’ but… I just couldn’t quite convince myself to do that, either. It wasn’t until later in the day that I fully realized why.
I didn’t go to 202 for the same reason that I don’t go to more AA meetings like this one: because I really dislike the whole format and structure of these gatherings.
A couple of years ago I ran across a TED talk by a Scandinavian counselor named Johann Hari that talked about the antidote to addiction being not just abstinence but connection.
Connection. That is what I was longing for yesterday. And sadly it is not what I get at these meetings. I don’t really get a meaningful level of connection and engagement from sitting through an hour of extemporaneous 3 minute monologues. And I really don’t like the unstated pressure to be witty and profound if and when I take my own turn to ‘“share.”
So mostly I come to these meetings, sit in silence, and hope I get to hold a girl’s hand when when we all stand up to recite the Lord’s Prayer (which I usually don’t actually recite. It’s a Jesus prayer and I’m a Jew.).
I know that the whole “no cross talk” structure of these meetings is essential to their decorum. But jeezus, sometimes what you really need is to actually talk to somebody. The absence of dialog defeats my whole purpose of being here. It actually makes me feel more isolated when what I need is something… not superficial. When I need the give and take of an actual conversation.
In the realm of recovery, I know that I’m one of the very lucky ones. The compulsion to drink or smoke or sniff (my primary drug of choice for nearly 20 years was pot; thank god I never got in to heroin or crack…) completely left me after, I dunno, somewhere between 30 and 60 days. That was back in 1987 – 29+ years ago – so I don’t really remember. I just know that there are a lot of recovering alcoholic types who struggle with the compulsion every day. That’s why the program insists that recovery is “One Day At A Time.” So I know that I am among the most fortunate of recovering ‘polyholics.’
What I’m trying to say here is: when I’m feeling isolated and alone – the very conditions that might spark a round of drinking if my sobriety was not as strong as it is – the last thing I need in the world is to sit in a hard chair feeling like a lame loser because I’m not to going to be as entertaining as the guy who “shared” before me or the woman who will share after me. But that’s the structure. And I sometimes I just fucking hate it.
I come to these meetings because they give me the opportunity to at least experience and be grateful for – if not actually “share” – my sobriety, and the fact that I because I quit sipping, sniffing and puffing nearly 30 years ago, I am still living – even it that presently means struggling with some of the most difficult choices I have ever had to face.
I have an “altar” of sorts in my home on which rest photographs of my ancestors, and also the photographs of several friends whose lives were cut short by their addictions. I have another photo to add to that collection now.
But jeezus, sometimes you just want to talk to somebody. Sometimes you just need a hug.
Don’t get me wrong. I know damn well that I would not be alive today had I not started going to AA meetings back in 1987. And I come to meetings so that I don’t take that gift of sobriety for granted.
I can’t really know if anybody besides me has been asking that question, but if you’re one of the regulars around here (the numbers may not be legion, but the affection is sincere…) you may have been wondering why the frequency of posts to this site dropped off dramatically in the second half of last year (2016).
At least, I hope somebody noticed, and even if nobody did notice, I’m going to attempt to explain the absence.
So, where did Paul go?
He sorta went into hiding for awhile. His innate tendency to be reclusive and withdrawn when things “go all pear-shaped” got the better of him for several months.
Or, rather, maybe, he just had the wind kicked out of him, and he’s been trying to catch his breath.
Or maybe he’s been thrown into the middle of a lake and is treading water, trying to figure which shore to swim to.
Yeah, that’s it. Treading water.
Chalk it all up to disruption on a personally cosmic scale.
– – – – – – –
I remember exactly when the fabric of my universe started to tear: April 29, 2016.
Ann and I were in Portland, Oregon. She got back in the car and said,
“They want me to start August 1st.”
At that moment, the Big Bang Theory went into full reverse and my Universe started to implode….
I will do the things
All the things
that need the doing
the plant watering
the bird-feeder filling
the cat-box cleaning
the dish-washer emptying
the trash taking out
the compost dumping
the laundry washing
the run to the recycle center
all those tedious chores
that must be done
so that the plants don’t die
and the cats aren’t crapping
in a litter box
already filled with
their own crap.
Today is my Saturday
Today is the day I get to do
whatever I want
including the nothing
if that’s what I feel like doing
or not doing.
I’ll write a silly poem or two
I’ll surf the Interwebs
and post inane things on The Facebook
so that all my friends will think
that I am witty and profound.
I’ll make a few phone calls
send a few emails.
mess about with
my new computer.
I will try to
all pretense of “purpose”
long enough to let
because “random” is where
the creative things happen.
So that’s what I’m going to do today.
I will do the things,
like go to the store
and stock the fridge
so that the day after tomorrow
I don’t starve.
Well, here’s something good that happened in 2016 that bodes well for 2017…
For the past several years, I have been a regular contributor to the publication Alive Now – a bimonthly publication of the Upper Room Ministries which “speaks to the opportunities and challenges of following Christ in the modern world.”
Anybody who knows me and my lack of (organized) religious conviction will appreciate the irony in that mission statement.
Nevertheless, over the years Alive Now has featured many of my photos from my wanderings amid the medieval ruins of the U.K. I am endlessly grateful for the patronage of the magazine’s art director, Nancy Terzian and its editor, Beth Richardson – who also selected one of my photos from Scotland to serve as the cover of her book, Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me: Celtic Blessings.
Alive Now has published enough of my photos – and actually paid for them! – that I’ve probably earned enough over the years to reimburse the trips I made to England and Scotland to shoot the photos of medieval ruins that they used (OK, not ALL of the photos were from the UK, but who’s counting?).
click to embiggen
Now, the capstone of that fruitful relationship is in place. After however many years, I finally secured the cover of March/April 2017 edition of Alive Now. I know it’s a sin, but I’ve coveted a cover for as long as I have been submitting photos, and I finally have one.
Unfortunately, in what feels like a hangover from the annus horribilis known as 2016 (trust me, you want to follow that ‘2016’ link…), the cover comes with its own sad tidings: this will be the final print edition of Alive Now. The publication will continue, but as has befallen so many print publications in the past decade, all future editions will be online/digital only. Once again, The Medium Is The Message (#TMITM).
The photo on the cover was taken at a monastic ruin in Yorkshire, England called Jervaulx Abbey. I stumbled on Jervaulx while touring the UK in the fall of 2014 looking for more “Portals of Stone.”
Unlike the neatly manicured ruins that are maintained by well-endowed institutions like English Heritage, Jervaulx sits on a private estate. Its owners have gone to considerable effort and expense over the past decade to rehabilitate the ruin, but it still lingers in a state that is more reflective of how these ruins must have stood before their preservation became pet projects for the British aristocracy starting in the 18th century. That made spending an afternoon at Jervaulx an exercise in time travel that stopped in at least two different centuries at the same time.
I’ll finish my second cup of coffee
then toast a bagel
so that I’m not hungry
when I fire up
the old red truck
(which rolled off the assembly line
while Harry Truman was President)
and head down
to Pegram City Hall
I’m going to vote
Despite all my reservations
despite my concerns
that the a vote for Her
is a vote for Corporate Oligarchy
is a vote for a status quo
that is clearly not serving
some significant portion of the populace
– white, rural (my peeps!)
– urban under-educated (we love the under-educated!)
those “salt of the earth” types
for whom Donald-fucking-Trump
seems like a viable alternative
when what he really represents
(was it Michael Moore who said this?)
… a Molotov Cocktail
that the proles can throw
into the Palace of the Establishment.
Here, take THIS
Suck on this
flaming bottle of rage.
But when it comes down to
actually pulling a lever
as much as I would like to
it ain’t gonna happen.
At least, not this year.
This year, we have to
hold our nose
swallow our idealistic pride
just do what we can
to keep (what’s left of?)
a once bold experiment
Or do what Bernie says we should do.
Or as Andrew Sullivan said
and do what has to be done.
It’s unfortunate for Hillary, I guess
that the climate around her ascension
is so toxic.
It’s unfortunate, too,
that her life and career
have unfolded as they have
although had it been any different,
So you wonder
what it might have been like
if she’d emerged through some corridor
other than as Bill’s spouse
but that’s pointless speculation.
We’re all here to play
the hand that we’ve been dealt.
Sure, she’s got a lot of baggage
Who has lived on this planet
for nearly seven decades
and not accumulated
their share of shit?
who has taken every day
of his 70 years to evolve
into a steaming sack
of human excrement)
But underneath it all
one occasionally gets a glimpse
of a genuinely exceptional
if equally flawed
flesh blood and bone
It’s hard to separate
the actual person
from all the mediated data points.
Who really knows
what she is really like?
I mean, who,
outside of her tight inner circle
if even them?
We’re certainly not going to get
any sense of that
from television, or – especially – the Internet
– that digital echo chamber
that does such a great job
of re-telling us what we already know.
We just have to play
the hand we’ve been dealt
and take some solace
in knowing that voices we respect
like Elizabeth Warren
are all in the same boat.
So I will dip my oar
in the swirling ocean of crazy
pull my solitary stroke
in Her direction,
hope she can steer us
to some shore of (relative) sanity,
and then pray that the polls
are reasonably accurate.
This is 17 month old Juniper Rae, Ann’s first and quite possibly her only-ever grandchild. She is the primary reason why Ann decided to pull up stakes and move to Portland back in July.
Sunday night, we all – Ann and I, eldest son James, younger son Robert, Rob’s wife Melissa and Juniper – all tuned into the professional verbal wrestling match aka “The Presidential Debate” btw Hillary and Drumpf.
Her parents don’t let Juniper have a lot of screen time, and she doesn’t see much TeeVee, so this was an exception. But as you can tell from her expression, even a 1-year-old can look at Trump and wonder whatthefuck just came out of his incoherent noise hole.
Oh, and I have to put a dollar in the “swear jar” for saying “fuck.” Actually, I put in two dollars. Figured I may as well pay in advance for the next one…
She was 17 years old and was fading fast… last time I took her to the vet they told me there was a 70% likelihood she was suffering from liver cancer. It was pretty much downhill from there, and I finally put her down about two weeks ago.
And no, I did not put it all over Facebook etc., but this is my personal space on the web so I’m mentioning it here.
Ann found her at the gas station down the street not long after we moved into our house in 1999. Seems oddly apropos that she’d leave us about the same time as my wife (who moved to Portland, Oregon back in July).
I’m a ‘cat person,’ and Rags was ‘my’ cat. I named her for ‘Rags The Tiger,’ a character in the first animated cartoon series on television, “Crusader Rabbit” – which was created by Jay Ward and was something of a prototype for “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” You have to be old (i.e. my age, 65) to remember “Crusader Rabbit.”
Rags was a cranky, whiny cat. She’d cry for some attention, but when I picked her up to pet her, she’d lie in my arms for about 30 seconds and then start whining again. Hissing was a pretty regular part of her repertoire, too.
I took some photos of her about a year ago… I guess I knew then that she wasn’t going to be with us much longer. It wasn’t until I looked at these photos, just before I took her to the vet, that I realized what a beautiful cat she was.
Just more evidence that everything is permanent only so long as it lasts.