Friday, October 19, 2012

temporary utopia and picturesque rot

Little house in the big woods.
Today it’s raining but not too cold. My favorite kind of rain. The sky just sort of drips onto the yellow and orange leaves, and steam rolls along the ground.

You can see why a person might want to write about nature, although my official position on the subject is that nature is like New York: There’s plenty to say about it, but a lot of it’s already been said.

Yesterday was sunny, so I took a long walk on my “lunch break,” which I’m putting in quotes because it was a break from my “work.” Don’t get me wrong—I’m working, and it’s wonderful, and I think this place will spoil me just like I knew it would, now that I know what it means to see the waves of my narrative in compressed form. But it’s a playful kind of work.

I took my photocopied MacDowell map and wandered past the other studios and cottages. There is a lot of white wood and low stone walls covered in moss. Some of the older buildings are a little worn, but it only adds to their charm. There’s a big difference between the sagging wood of a turn-of-the-century New England porch and the saggy, leaking ceilings of a high school classroom that was built as a temporary structure in 1973. I feel like that’s the kind of rot we have on the West Coast.

But maybe someday, after enough West Coast artists grow old and immortalize the shitty classrooms of their youth, we’ll find it quaint. Is that how nostalgia works? Or is there something intrinsically more lovely about old New England rot? Because of the trees?

I mean, I think almost anything can be beautiful, but certain kinds of beauty are hard and gritty and just make you nauseous in the wrong light, when you feel more of them than witness to them.

It’s hard to look at MacDowell and Peterborough—the adjacent town, all brick and white wood—without a refrain of This is utopia pulsing at the base of my skull. When I was much younger, I would have wanted to move here. (My dream, at age five, was to live in a Victorian house that I’d restored myself. That is the dream of a child whose parents are way too into real estate and historical landmarks. That is the dream of someone who hasn’t yet discovered how much she dislikes fixing shit.) When I was just a little younger, I would have been highly suspicious of all of it. Surely this much charm must have a dark side? Or at least be the product of some sinister oppressive force? If I lived here I’d become soft, and we can’t have that!

Now I that I’ve become a little bit hard, I’d welcome the opportunity to become a little bit soft. I’m grateful to Mr. and Mrs. MacDowell (mostly Mrs., since Mr. died young, which isn’t his fault) for understanding all this: that when you have success and abundance you should use it to help other people create their own success; that temporary utopia might be the most useful kind.


Claire said...

As a New Englander, I feel I must share that I went to middle school in temporary "portables," i.e. trailers cobbled together into a wing, that had already been there 15-20 years and went on for another 10 or so before the town finally built a real addition to the high school.

The view of trees out my window, even if they are largely leafless already, however, is a bit of utopia. Take it where you can get it. :)

Cheryl said...

I refuse to believe you went to school in anything but a brick schoolhouse with a wood-burning stove.

Claire said...

Oh, that made me laugh. Thanks.

The portables could've used a wood-burning stove. They were often without heat.

Town meetings are now held in the rockin' auditorium/theater they built, so I end up going back now and again. I believe there is, in fact, a preponderance of red brick.