Keeping a Steady Pen While Heading Home through the Poconos

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Eve of Departure

Susie is packed and ready to go, and I’m pretty sure I am as well.  The Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) Reunion, aka “Garden of LRY”, officially begins at 5 p.m. tomorrow afternoon, and to me this night is Christmas Eve, the last day of school, and Mardi Gras all rolled into one.  I think I’m packed–I promised Julie, who was nice enough to drive Susie and me on this safari, that I’d pack light.  (Since I originally planned to take Greyhound to this Reunion, packing light was my original intention.)

Susie will be picking up a new state on this trip.  She’s never been to New Jersey before.  She has been to Pennsylvania, which is the only other state we will cross on this journey.  She’s not looking forward to the long drive, but as I get older, I take Cervantes’ words more to heart: “The road is always better than the inn.”

Julie’s husband Marc is attending an academic conference in Seattle, and she worried about the logistics around meeting him at the Newark airport.  (The Reunion itself is near Newton, N.J., in Sandyston Township.)  But, a mutual friend of ours from Queens will meet Marc’s flight as he is heading to the camp.  This came about in a blizzard of phone calls and emails among all of us today.

Jacques and I met for beverages at Kafé Kerouac this evening, but I became more and more frustrated because their Wi-Fi and this computer just could not connect, regardless of how many times they reset the router.  To keep from seething, I suggested that Jacques come with me and take an impromptu tour of Sporeprint Infoshop, the “radical social center” on E. 5th Ave. which is becoming quite dear to my heart.  We drove down and met with two volunteers, and Jacques came away quite impressed, especially with the lending library, the non-sectarian food distribution, the Internet-ready computers ready for anyone who needs them, and the fact that Kroger has been quite generous with donations of bread, cakes, and pastries.  Sporeprint is located directly across the street from Vineyard Columbus’ food pantry and free clinic.  Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet that “Work is love made visible,” and that should be printed on a banner that stretches over the street above E. 5th Ave. between Summit and N. 4th.

Jacques came away marveling at the work Sporeprint promotes, especially the Really, Really Free Market the last Sunday of every month.  He plans to attend (as do I) the special one which happens on the 29th of this month (noon until 5 p.m. in Weinland Park, 211 E. 7th Ave.).  In addition to free clothes, books, bread, etc., there will be free services offered–hair-cutting, face-painting, children’s shows, etc.  I plan to be there.  Those of you who read this blog who live in the Columbus area, I strongly encourage you to come.  Those of you that miss it, I will describe it in a forthcoming entry.

Out of curiosity, I checked Google Maps for the directions to the 4-H camp in New Jersey.  It offered three routes, and the travel time varied by, at most, 30-45 minutes.  Julie says we’ll probably take I-71 to I-80 (which makes sense, because it avoids the Pennsylvania Turnpike and all those tolls).  I asked her out of mere curiosity–she’s driving, her word is law.  She says the car has a GPS, which she’ll be using for the first time, so I’m sure it’ll suggest the same thing.

The first “long” piece of prose I ever wrote, other than a penciled autobiography when I was 10, was a 48-page, typewritten, single-spaced description of two trips to Richmond, Va. I made with my parents when I was almost 11.  While writing this, I remember keeping the Exxon road map of the trip spread out on the bedroom floor by the typewriter, so I could trace the journey.  (It stayed spread out because I could never master the art of folding maps.)  The GPS makes that a little different.  Gone are the days when this would be your guide:

It would be invaluable to travel with this, even though it was crumpled up in a ball in the glove compartment, complete with melted Tootsie Rolls and old McDonald’s napkins and coffee stirrers.

Well, I’m not a tiny tot, but my eyes are all aglow, and I am finding it hard to sleep tonight.  Nevertheless, I am going to post this entry and make the attempt.  The camp is beyond Wi-Fi range, so I plan to handwrite blog entries in a notebook and then scan them, backdated, into this blog once I’m back in Columbus.

Been Too Tired For Self-Promotion

Very busy on Saturday, from mid-morning until about 3 a.m. Sunday morning, and all I’ve wanted to do in the meantime is sleep.  How tired was I?  On Friday, I learned that one of my favorite Websites, Notebook Stories, named me “Notebook Addict of the Month,” and included a link to this blog.  I have been a devoteé of this site ever since I discovered it, and I was honored to receive this award.  No one who knows me was surprised by this at all.  One of the miracles of the World Wide Web is learning that other people share your more bizarre and offbeat interests, whether it’s collecting Cracker Jack prizes, or decorating your kitchen in old Mrs. Butterworth bottles, or writing in (and hoarding) notebooks.

I jumped at the chance to go back to Athens Saturday with Steve.  He’s writing an article for The Columbus Examiner about Ohio Unitarian Universalists’ reactions to the recent death of Art Gish, so I recommended he speak to Bob Whealey, professor emeritus of history at O.U., and my longtime friend and mentor.  (I knew him for three or four years before I ever took a class from him.)  Steve and I met Bob at Perks, a coffee shop diagonally across from College Gate, early Saturday evening.  (It had been a jewelry store, and later a Kinko’s, during my years in Athens.)  The conversation was quite free-flowing, and we spoke about much more than Art Gish and his legacy.  I think it could have gone on for hours, except that Steve was worried his parking meter at Scott Quad would expire, and, since his wife had gone to Kentucky for the weekend, that if he didn’t get home soon, their dogs would be going berserk.
Speaking of berserk, that describes the rest of Saturday night for me.  I stopped in at Dude Locker Fest II, a marathon metal concert at the Tompkins Warehouse on E. Hudson St.  Several metal bands played, and there was an impromptu skate park set up on the asphalt in front of the building.  I’ve never learned to ride a skateboard, and I was awed by some of the feats these guys performed.  One wooden ramp stood next to a small bonfire (fueled mostly by trash and old pizza boxes), and I winced every time I thought someone would get to the top of the ramp, spill, and land in the fire.  They spilled, but thankfully each one managed to fall away from the flames.
On the other side of the parking lot, someone rigged up a ramp which included an old dryer, which made the drop-off that much higher and steeper.  Several people wiped out attempting it, but just as many landed with all skateboard wheels on the asphalt, and the rider balanced perfectly atop it.  It amazed me how much the excessive alcohol could dampen inhibitions, and make the body more relaxed and able to absorb falls and blows, but at the same time they did not sacrifice the coordination and dexterity necessary to perform skateboard stunts and not end up crippled as a result.
Since I got home from Dude Locker Fest II, all I’ve wanted to do was sleep.  I skipped church, but I did make it to work this morning and the library afterwards.
Mostly, I’m counting down the days until Friday.  The Garden of LRY (a reunion for those of us who were in Liberal Religious Youth from the ’60s through the ’90s) takes place at a 4-H camp near Newton, N.J. this weekend, and yours truly will be going.  Susie will be coming along too–she can make new friends among the teenagers there.  The teenagers can sit back and watch their parents act like teenagers.  I am moved by the generosity of Marc and Julie, a couple at church, who have offered to drive Susie and me to and from.  (Julie is driving me to New Jersey, since Marc will be in Seattle and will be flying to Newark on Friday.  All four of us will head back to Columbus Sunday.)  I had planned on going Greyhound both ways, but when I mentioned this to Marc during coffee hour at church the Sunday before last, that was when he suggested we come with them.  Since not buying bus tickets freed up some money, that was when I began to think Susie would enjoy coming.  It’ll add a new state (New Jersey) to her list.
Julie, Susie, and I are departing around 9 a.m. Friday morning.  According to Google Maps, it’s a 9½-hour journey, but I’m sure it’ll be longer when we add stops for bathroom breaks, refilling, eating, etc.  Travelling with someone else will make it a less grueling trip.  I was upfront about not being able to drive.  That started off as a choice, long before narcolepsy made it a matter of necessity.
The camp itself (the G. Lindley Cook 4-H Camp) is way out in the boondocks and beyond the reach of Wi-Fi.  True to my calling as Notebook Addict of the Month (normally the Webmaster chooses Notebook Addict of the Week), I’ll be blogging with paper and ink.  Once I’m back in Columbus, I’ll backdate entries and scan the pages into the blog, so you’ll read my thoughts and impressions upon my return.
Here is the entry with my “award.”  I am no photographer, but they did publish my pictures of the work notebooks and rough drafts of William Vollmann’s gigantic novel Europe Central, which was on display at the OSU Library last month.
A very small tip of the iceberg that would become Europe
Central.

Your Faithful Night Angel Blogging Here…

I’m typing this at church–the First Unitarian Universalist Church here in Columbus–around 2:30 in the morning.  I have spent many an hour in this building in the last three decades–as a guest, and as a member–but this is the first time I have spent the night.  Columbus is hosting the spring Youth-Adult Committee conference (known as a “con” in the lingua franca of the Unitarian Universalist Association) this weekend.  Susie is here, and I am a sponsor.

But how am I a night angel?  I am one of the adults who volunteered to take a shift walking around the church and making sure that all the kids are safe, doors to the outside are shut, that no one is doing anything they shouldn’t be doing, etc.  I have the 3 a.m.-5 a.m. shift, so I’m racing against the clock (and my battery power–I left my cord in the other room) to bring this blog up to date before I go on duty.

As the clock nears 3 a.m., many kids are still wide awake, playing games, singing, socializing, playing euchre, washing down Tortilla chips with room-temperature lemonade and playing the piano in Fellowship Hall.  (The piano selections have run the gamut from the “Ode to Joy” to “Piano Man” to “Eleanor Rigby.”)

When Susie and I went to the fall conference in Pittsburgh, it was a bit overwhelming for her, and for me I felt like I had come full circle.  In the spring of 1979, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the spring youth-adult conference of the Ohio-Meadville District.  (North America is divided into several autonomous geographic districts by the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, somewhat analogous to a diocese in the Roman Catholic or Episcopal churches.  The Ohio-Meadville District covers most of Ohio, all of West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, and Southwestern New York.)  The camp was at Camp Tippecanoe, a YMCA facility in Harrison County, Ohio, and by the end of the first evening I was happy that I had gone.

For the next five years, I faithfully attended district youth conferences, fall and spring, as well as conferences at the national level (sponsored by Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), the national youth group, which, I soon learned, had an uneasy, and often very antagonistic relationship with many churches and with the denomination itself) travelling any way I could.  I rode Greyhound buses, I hitchhiked, I pre-arranged rides with friends headed to the same conferences.  All of this was before Internet and flat-rate long distance and cell phones, so I ran up astronomical phone bills at home and at church, impatiently awaited the arrival of the letter carrier daily, and developed many friendships that have lasted to the present day.

The youth have a much freer hand in governance than they did during my teen years.  I am eagerly looking forward to the worship service Saturday evening, because the one in Pittsburgh last fall was quite moving.

SEMI-TANGENT ALERT:  Compare this to a conference I went to in Massachusetts, which had no worship service on its agenda.  A musician and composer friend of mine at the conference and I were not happy about this.  He and I told the advisors (adults), “Just give us about 45 minutes in private, we’ll have a worship service for you.”  Locking ourselves in the minister’s study, we spread out several books of poetry, the Bible, and Hymns for the Celebration of Life (the predecessor to the current hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition), and a notebook.  We batted ideas and reading suggestions back and forth, hashed out an Order of Worship, and emerged with a service that went quite well.  I regret to this day that we didn’t think to record it.  One or two people were unhappy that two people ran the entire worship service, but if someone else had stepped up to the plate, we would have been happy to let them help us, or even take over the entire show.  Except for these minor rumblings, people complimented us on the service the rest of the weekend.

I do not know if Susie will be as enthusiastic or as zealous about conferences as I was.  It fulfilled a need in me that is far different from the way she is maturing.  It is no exaggeration (and this is neither the time nor the place for me to elaborate) that had I not found Unitarian Universalism, and through it the youth movement in its many incarnations, I would be in a very different place and situation than I am now.  It is not too much of a stretch to say that I would either be incarcerated or dead today.  I was listening to Steely Dan’s Katy Lied during work today, and the refrain of the penultimate song on that album is “Any world that I’m welcome to/Is better than the one I come from.”

If my life had a soundtrack, that would cover that aspect of my life.

Ohio-Meadville District of the Unitarian Universalist Association