Monthly Archives: January 2010
Storms. I have always loved bad storms, even if I was simultaneously terrified of them. Right now, the storm that dumped a ton of snow back where I live in Connecticut earlier in the day has just arrived—only there isn’t any snow. There is wind. There is wind, and banging, and drums beating, and shaking, and slamming, and tremulous thunder, and glass breaking, and roaring.
We had a similar whopper here on Monday (although it was fifteen degrees warmer, at least, than it is outside right now). I was running back and forth between my apartment and the Mailer house, because there I was treated to a wonderful view of the angry waves (see photographs of the storm below). The sea smelled clean, like fresh vegetables and salt. And the wind moaned and shrieked like a thousand dying souls. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.
But I’ve found that this extraordinary sound doesn’t only exist during storms here. Even at the close of a lovely day, I sit in my apartment and hear the wind moan and wail. Sometimes the house groans and creaks or even shakes, and nearby I can hear things banging: doors, mailboxes, real estate signs against the picket fences. It’s all very noisy.
But it is also incredibly atmospheric. I mentioned this to my next-door neighbor, Peter, who theorized that part of that wonderful noise is due to the proximity of the structures: the wind has plenty of small spaces to whistle through. I told him it was a frightening, but magical, sound. He sipped his beer and looked at me and said, “Once you’re used to it it’s not so great. Just everything you do, no matter what you’re doing, all you hear in the background is that moaning. Sometimes you hear things you can’t explain. When you’re here all alone, all winter long, you go wind crazy.”
I was wishing I could put that wind in a bottle and let it out back home, to see what “wind crazy” feels like.
Until ten minutes ago (yes, it’s a little after three a.m.). I heard glass breaking from somewhere. I roused from bed, climbed into layers of clothes, went out, walked around the house, checked all the windows and doors, and came up with nothing. Out of concern, I called Peter (feeling bad for waking him up, but seriously so terrified it really didn’t matter at the moment). He said, “thanks for checking—if you didn’t see anything, it’s probably okay.” He said he’d check everything again in daylight, but don’t worry about it, go back to bed and try to get some sleep.
I think I’ve gone wind crazy.
I don’t have the greatest camera, but if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the waves. This was taken from indoors.
Riches in the Ruins
In writing, as with any kind of intense pursuit, it’s important to have a balance while you’re doing it. I came up here to the Colony with a lot of work to do, and I’ve certainly achieved that. I even managed to get out to a few things—an art gallery opening, a wonderful dinner party at the Mailer house, a poetry reading. Last weekend, however, after working intensely for three or four days and only attending these events in the evenings, I realized I was feeling a little caged in. I wasn’t getting out enough.
Enter my next-door neighbor, Peter, and his friend Duff. They live here year-round and I definitely hold them among the coolest people I’ve ever met. During the first week I was here, I’d discussed with them my passion for abandoned places and urban exploring (something I do, in reality, very little of—I mostly just look at other explorer’s photos). And they had a surprise for me: some abandoned jewels just down the road apiece. Would I like to go? Hell, yeah!
So this past Sunday, although it was a bit nippy, it was sunny and a beautiful day to be out—in many ways, there’s no better weather in which to visit an abandoned place. All that beauty (especially by the sea) is so incongruous with the empty places, the rotting places, the places where, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the echoes of the lives that happened in them. I came home inspired; a new short story is cooking in my brain as we speak. In an odd way, all that incongruity—and being away from my keyboard for a full day—restored my balance.
Here are photos and videos of our day–we visited a base, most of which is now nature preserve and open to the public; some of it is still in use by local organizations, but the base ceased operations in 1985. The other building was a biology lab, and I’m not sure when that closed–although its closing pre-dated the late 1990s judging from graffiti on the walls.
Apparently, there are a couple more places, but we ran out of daylight. Here’s to hoping I get an opportunity to go see the rest before I leave!
Organized tour? NOT.
Walking Tour #1: A bit of background.
“[There’s just] all kinds of stuff out here…”
Next few pix: Seriously? This place is reminiscent of the set of The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, precursor to The Omega Man (Charlton Heston, 1971) and I Am Legend (Will Smith, 2007). [If you’ve never seen The Last Man on Earth, or don’t even have any clue what the hell I’m talking about, you owe it to yourself to rent it now.]
These are all single family homes.
There are four streets of them…
Peter on the Roof.
Home sweet home! Those trees’d be a pain in the ass if your dinner party guests had to get through them to find your front door. Yup, that’s me. Martini, anyone? May I bring your slippers?
Broken merry-go-round on the playground.
Many years ago, parents sat on this bench and watched their kids:
Here’s a shelter where people, most likely, waited for transportation:
We were pretty fascinated with this cover, which we could have probably pried open if we’d had a crowbar. Check out the design, the year, and the strange symbols. Drunken mischief? Or does somebody have, like, food and stuff socked away down there (I didn’t put the photo here, but beneath this cement platform there are what appear to be air vents).
Fallen electrical equipment. The storms out here do get pretty wild.
I’m not sure what caused this hole. It was in one of the front windows of a home–a window that would have most likely looked into the family room. Where a Christmas Tree probably would have been.
Interior. What’s with all the weird art?
Dormant dining room.
These trees reminded me of scenes in Sleepy Hollow.
Walking toward the sea.
The Abandoned Beach Cliff Adventure. This is truly great!
Nathan shot this while we were chatting.
An abandoned cistern. This view struck me as reminiscent of the pool area from which the piranha escaped in Piranha (1978).
I was fascinated by this creepy picnic area.
THE ABANDONED LAB
Obviously, someone was here before us…whoever it was drank his beer, but left a near-full pack of Marlboros.
From this point forward, we’re going counter-clockwise through the place. This was a loading door of some kind — the opening was large enough to fit a small vehicle through.
This is the area to the left of the door.
Notice this spiral painted on the wall–it looks like the same spiral painted on the man-hole cover I pointed out earlier. Weird.
Ceiling damage in one of the back rooms.
I’m always fascinated by fuse boxes that no longer work. This one I particularly liked because I swear it’s the same model I had in my house growing up. Or maybe they’re all the same anyway? I don’t know.
Could you imagine working in this dark hole? I think it would depress me.
Here in Provincetown, there are lots of birds. Seagulls, mostly, but other species, too, and they always seem to billow en masse from behind the houses across the street from mine—the ones that front the beach. Peter, the next-door neighbor, jokes constantly about how it would be easy, living here, for one to fall into the trap of thinking you’re living in Hitchcock’s The Birds. I thought he was clever and cool, of course, but silly at the same time.
Until last Friday. I drove the other resident, Sigrid, to the airport. It’s just a tiny little strip and building, and although it isn’t far from town at all, once you reach the end of Conwell Street, you are driving through towering dunes and huddling woods. All of it, from what I understand, is natural preserve, complete with walking and biking trails that go for miles.
On the way back, I pulled into a parking lot at one of the trail heads. Of course, the place was deserted, and I decided to take a few photos. As I stood there, camera at the ready, I heard something that sounded like a cat purring, very close to my ear. I looked around, and saw nothing. The “cat” purred again. Was there an animal nearby? It was pleasantly spooky, and I have to confess although it was ten in the morning and sunny, I was having reservations about staying too much longer.
Again, the cat purr. Then, I felt something brush my cheek.
It was a bird’s wing.
Chickadees. There were chickadees surrounding me. In the trees above my head, at my feet, in the beach scrub. The “cat” purring was the sound of their wings. I had never in my life heard what a bird fluttering its wings sounded like up close. There was something very peaceful about it, and intimately creepy at the same time. Sure, they were cute. But the way they were fearless, came so close to my ears, and were overly vocal…I think they wanted me to follow them into the woods.
I chose not to go, and then when I returned to the apartment, there were several of them hanging around outside my slider.
It occurred to me that perhaps Peter wasn’t being silly at all.
The wild dunes.
Here is the trail entrance, in case any of you are in P-Town and want to visit the spot.
This is near where I parked.
The beginning of the path.
Look at how close they came!
The storm we’re having up here right now is nothing short of AWESOME. The wind is so strong the house creaks, groans, and thumps. Last night I could swear I felt my bed move. This must be, I thought, the type of weather ships sink in.
It’s one of the many magical things about Provincetown in January.
When friends first heard I would be here in the winter, several of them asked me, “wouldn’t you rather be there in the summer?” I’m sure it would be nice in the summer, but a Coastal New England winter does wonders for my work because of the types of stories I write. It is gray. It is windy. Everything has a sodden look to it. And the shrubs and trees are skeletal.
And there is something else.
When I first arrived here, the guy who lives next door noted “this place is a ghost-town in the winter.” The last couple of nights that I’ve had to walk two miles round-trip to events in town, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing this first hand. There are sections of streets where there isn’t even one light on in any of the homes, probably because they are summer places. There are also shops and restaurants that appear to only be open seasonally as well. They are closed down, their outdoor furniture stacked neatly in the corners of hibernating gardens and cobblestone patios.
But of all the shuttered houses and shops, the creepiest ones by far are the seasonal hotels and B&Bs. I passed three of them in a row the other night, and it happened to be on a portion of the street that wasn’t well lit. One building was a white, manicured Victorian, probably majestic and warm in the daylight. In the dark, though, its black windows seemed wickedly intelligent. The furniture stacks on its front porch seemed to mutate into huddled beings. As I passed, the inn’s sign swung slightly in the wind. NO VACANCY.
That, to me, is the most atmospheric part of these closed places; I’ve noticed this same phenomenon not only here in town, but on my drive in through Wellfleet and Truro. The owners of these places, instead of putting out CLOSED FOR SEASON signs, put out their NO VACANCY signs. It implies that the empty buildings are indeed not really empty at all. The people move out at the end of summer. And that is when the ghosts, or God knows what else, move in.
I didn’t grow up where there were sidewalks, and I don’t live where there are sidewalks now. I usually love a place where I can walk on a sidewalk. But here, I prefer walking in the street. These temporarily closed businesses are right on top of me. The tangles of dead vines and hedges look like they could reach out and seize me. It’s a bit claustrophobic.
I suppose I should consider myself lucky there’s NO VACANCY.
While I spent the whole day cleaning up the story I wrote yesterday, wrote a draft of a second one (very rough) AND have a few notes about what I experienced last night (I went to a poetry reading but really, the walk home by motels that have been shuttered for the season was the best part in its own creepy way), I figured in the meantime I’d send you all some photos of where I’m staying.
What’s most interesting to me about the condo is that it has the same layout, almost, of a cabin we had as a family in the Adirondack State Park—down to the loft bedroom. The only difference is the bright colors, and the abundance of windows (what I’d always wished about that place…it was WAY TOO DARK). This place is full of sunshine, bright colors, and a view of the bay. Such a contrast to the almost-windowless cabin huddled beneath hundred-old-pine trees!
So…here are photos. Don’t worry, I’m getting lots of writing done…tomorrow is the first day I get to write in Norman Mailer’s living room, which overlooks the bay. I hope to take some photos there to share with you.
And right now, it is pouring and rip-roaring storming here–like a monsoon–and one of my favorite films…The Perfect Storm…is playing on the TV accompanied by Sebastian Junger’s commentary. How could anyone ask for a better New-England-the-way-it-should-be atmosphere than this?
As most of my friends know, I was privileged to receive a Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony Fellowship for this winter—essentially, two weeks in Provincetown to write both in a private condo and in Mailer’s house—and I arrived yesterday. Already, I am in love with this place. There is so much to do here—art openings, movie nights, film showings, poetry readings—that just about every night I have some wonderful activity in which to engage.
Last night, I attended the Fine Arts Work Center Fellows Exhibition opening at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. I enjoy art, and everything I saw had something interesting to offer. But there was one piece that I was so taken by I wish I could own it.
I discovered that it was actually part of another exhibition on display until February 14 called Generations. The piece was called “Cannibal’s House” by Martha Dunigan. I personally have a hard time accurately describing art, so I won’t try. I’ll just be blunt and write that it was a three-dimensional wooden house about two feet high filled with small, yellowing bones.
I was fascinated. I don’t know why I was so fascinated, but I think that’s just the way my interests work: I’m often drawn to places, people, objects, and certain historical occurrences and never know why. I do know that when I’m attracted to a piece of art it has the specific feel of rubbernecking (the only three pieces of art I own all make me feel that way). At any rate, I stood studying the work for a long time. Then I made a conscious effort to pull myself away and look at the other exhibits, but after two or three peeks at some paintings, I was back at “Cannibal’s House.” I did this three or four times.
Finally, I decided I should ask someone about it. I wanted to know more about it, and I wanted to find out whose bones filled the tiny house. I headed over to the serving table and asked the bartender, who pointed to a woman whom he said was the curator.
The curator of the exhibit turned out to be the artist’s daughter, Breon. “That’s my mother’s piece,” she said, seeming touched. She quickly disengaged from her conversation to take me back to it so we could talk.
Breon, herself an artist, said her mother worked mostly with found objects, and when I asked her what creature she thought the bones belonged to, she said “probably seagulls.” She explained that her mother had grown up in Provincetown and had always had a fascination with all things water. In, on, or around. That Martha had spent many, many hours walking the beaches and picking up objects, but especially bones, to use in her artwork.
I asked Breon what she thought her mother’s attraction was to the bones. She wasn’t totally sure, but her best guess was the decay. That things that are around water, which is usually considered to be very life-giving, have a tendency to fall apart faster.
What she’d said led me to think about the nature of tears. When we cry it is usually because things are falling apart. In many cases, though, these are things that need to be broken so that we can be healed, release ourselves of what is negative or stagnating, and move forward into something positive.
The piece is part of a private collection, which is fine, since I couldn’t have afforded the price tag if there had been one–I’m not sure they sell artwork, they may just display it) anyway. I asked Breon if there were any postcards of it available, and there weren’t, but it turns out the museum had something better for sale: the catalogue from a 2003 posthumous exhibition of Martha Dunigan’s work. The book showcases many of her pieces, but best of all, there is a photo of “Cannibal’s House,” so that I can always remember what it looked like. It also has information about Martha and her art told through both the eyes of those who knew her and some of her correspondence.
I walked back to the condo I’m staying in with the book in one hand and a cigarette in the other and thought about what a magical experience I’d just had. For me it was more about discovering a piece of art; it was about legacies. How sometimes we all need to look ourselves and our lives and remember what is really important. There was a woman who spent her whole life collecting bones on the beach, made something out of it, and years later, it gave a complete stranger an epiphany.
By the time I got home, I had an idea for a new short story—“The Bone Lady” (tentative title until revision time, I’m sure)—which I’ve just finished. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything with it, but I do know I learned a whole lot about the world, and my place in it, today.
Thank you, Martha. Wherever you are.
I’m proud to say that so far, 2010 has been the best year yet! So what’s new?
“Screams of Autumn”
My short story “Screams of Autumn” has just been accepted by Spilt Milk, the Literary Magazine of Warm Milk Press. I’ll keep you posted on its availability.
Read Short Fiction
I’m honored to have been asked to serve on the staff at Read Short Fiction (www.readshortfiction.com), which is headed by Rob Mayette. We’ve reviewed several submissions over the past few months, and our first three acceptances (there are more in the queue, but they haven’t gone out yet) are now posted: “Hippie Market” by Tom Mahony, “Handy Man” by David Landrum and “A Christmas Eve Story” by Milan Smith are all a lot of fun. Head on over there and check it out—and see Rob’s video introduction to the ’zine.
Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony
I’m already here and finally settled! In fact, I did scads of work today. I will have some access to e-mail, but as I’ve got a whole novel to write, a couple of short stories to revise, and a few book recommendations to take care of for “Dead Letters” on the The Ghostman & Demon Hunter Show, I don’t know how much I’ll be online. I do plan, however, on keeping my website updated with some occasional blogging and photos about my experience—I’m usually good for about seven or so hours of writing a day, and then I need to switch gears. I’ll be back at home on February 1.
If you’re on my (postal) mailing list, this year’s exclusive story chapbook, “Paisley Surprise,” will arrive soon. (Although I will note this: they’re expensive to mail, so I’m going to mail out a few each week.) Only 225 copies were printed. If you don’t think I have your postal address and would like to receive a copy, just e-mail me or use the contact form on my website. While I’ll soon join the ranks of writers everywhere and send PDFs through e-mail or post them to SCRIBD, I won’t discontinue my chapbook editions. Nothing’s as magical as getting a cool little printed and hand-bound book to put on your shelf!