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April 6th at 5pm, opening reception at Cherry Branch Gallery, Cherry Valley, NY.
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
Leaving LA after 25 years felt like the right thing to do. LA was a pit stop, a very complicated, very expensive pit stop on my journey through life.
On the road from LA to NY, I followed my son in his truck and took iPhone photos through my truck’s windshield. Mostly of his tail lights.
I’m an old hand at leaving. But this cross-country move was different, I was uprooting someone else’s life.
Connor was off to college in the fall and somehow I’d justified it in my mind that moving the day after he graduated from HS in LA would be the best timing for both of us.
I didn’t cry during our going away party, I didn’t cry as we packed, when we drove away, as the hours and the miles across the deserts and mountains ticked by.
Across the plains, the skies were a cathedral of thunderheads, rainbows that went straight up and down, lightning that streaked sideways.
I took photos through my truck window of those things, too.
We landed in central New York to renovate an 1820’s farmhouse that I’d bought, sight unseen, from a post of Facebook.
As my new life began to take shape in the summer before Connor left for university, I took photographs of everything.
By the time the old house was renovated, Connor was at school and I had taken well over 20,000 photographs.
And I had carpal tunnel from uploading and editing all those photos but I couldn’t stop- the beauty of the land surrounding me was astounding.
I cried at night because my arm hurt so bad but the tears were different from the tears that I cried as I followed his red tail lights into those storms, heading east.
Those were tears of joy, realizing what a fine young man he had turned into, a brave soul, ready for adventure, a young man who faced the open road with open mind and heart.
My show at the Cherry Branch Gallery is a celebration of central New York and the life one can find in the middle of letting go.
“No one ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed.”
Dunga Brook Diary, 2/28/13
Yesterday, I sat with Kristen, the gallery director at Cherry Branch Gallery. Prepping for my show, we were scouring each and every picture I have uploaded to FB in the past year and a half, she’s picking her favorites and categorizing them.
There are about 7 folders of pictures so far, my favorite being the “I can’t live without” folder, loaded with pictures that make her sigh, close her eyes and drop her head in exhausted ecstasy. There are a lot of pictures to look through. She might just be tired.
When I see my photos through her editing eyes, I can see we are going to have a kick ass show.
One thing I don’t have many of are “people photos”. This is Margo, my neighbor, making sausage in her kitchen last summer, you can’t see Tim who is half-naked with a tattoo across his shoulder’s that reads, “Grace”. Margo is in this lovely white Grecian gown that looks like it cost about a dollar but you could take her anywhere.
Kristen would drop sigh, drop her head and close her eyes at this photo, too, but she hasn’t seen it yet. When she does she will drop into the folder “special effects” because I photoshopped it. She will ask me to find the original. She likes purity.
And I will. But I couldn’t resist photoshopping it last night, Margo is a work of art.
A big hug and XO to you, Kristen.
”…when I die lord won’t you put me up on that train…won’t you send it southbound give it a cool bluesman name…”
~Ryan Bingham, Southside of Heaven, Mescalito
Dunga Brook Diary, 2/24
It’s a silent day in central NY, snowing again.
This abandoned train on the outskirts of Oneonta reminds me of Ryan Bingham. Ryan Bingham reminds me of LA. LA reminds me of The Cinema bar.
One summer night, circa 2001, I dragged my LA music producer boyfriend there, I was sure he was going to love it- I’d read in the LA Weekly that the Cinema Bar was a great place to hear live music, a place where singer-songwriters like Lucinda Williams might show up and join in with whatever local band was playing.
We finally found The Cinema bar on a dank street populated with no-tell motels and shuttered wholesale carpet outlets on the edge of Culver City. Twice, we’d missed the red and green sign above the door spelling out its name in buzzing neon.
Inside, it was a hole in the wall. A juke joint. A place with no cover, no doorman and only one bartender behind a bar far bigger than the rest of the room facing a thirsty, blue-collar looking crowd.
The decor was easily out of date by the 70’s, with its party-stained wood interior, haphazard stools and rickety tables and rotating-slogan beer signs, instead of hipster LA pin-lighting and banquette seating.
Above the head of the weary, chain-smoking bartender was a tv chained to the wall, endlessly broadcasting sports to the unsportiest of crowds. There was a grandma with a beehive hairdo who looked as if she’d been there since 1965, a toothless trucker falling asleep beside her, a cadaverous fellow chain smoking with his pinky in the air, numerous colorful rockabilly chicks in cowboy boots and a group of flannel over wife beater wearing he/she’s giggling next to a Howdy Doody looking character raising a can of Shiner Bocke to the band.
The band was loud.
Back when I was a teenager living in Illinois, in a nowhere town that sidled the Mississippi River, I thought that I hated bars like this.
Still, that was exactly where you’d find me on Saturday nights with my boyfriend, I’d be wearing a tube top and we’d be playing foosball underneath neon signs, he’d have a Busch in his hand flirting with me between scoring goals and I’d be under-age drinking a blue Hawaiian, we’d both be singing along to Lynard Skynard songs playing on a jukebox amped to deafening decibels. Aside from the drunken welders and rage filled Viet Nam vets who truly owned those riverfront bars, it was exactly where I wanted to be on those muggy midwestern nights.
The Cinema bar’s stage was nothing more than a spot for the band set up in at what used to be a front window (blacked-in now). The band and the fans stood just elbows apart, sweaty face to sweaty face.
Turns out the band that the LA Weekly had mentioned would be there had already played there the week before, this was some other band.
We stood at the packed bar, easily 3-deep, trying to breathe in the cigarette smoke-filled room, an impossibility, so we listened. The band strummed, the drummer set a rhythm, a key board player in horn rims played something I think I heard in high school at Scotty’s Skateland when it was time for “the couples skate”, then something happened, the lead guitar took over, he bent low over that guitar, he worked it, wrenching out the cords, the singer closed his eyes and sang louder, suddenly a swooping feeling inside as the room began to vibrate and shimmer…
The band was AWESOME.
My heart jumped. Stuff like this reminds you of who you really are and where you come from. Until that moment, I had no idea how deep the red in my neck ran. This rock n roll and this tiny dive bar just off the 405 was the closest thing to heaven I’d found in LA.
Wow, I mouthed to my boyfriend. Wow, he mouthed back and hugged me in.
The band was announced as the Randy Weeks Band. Turns out Randy was a stalwart of the Americana scene in LA, a scene that somehow began in the 80’s with punk bands like X, The Blasters and Randy’s previous band The Lonesome Strangers.
In the 80’s, I was a newly minted fashion designer hanging out in Manhattan Beach doing another version of X with the terminally cool south bay crowd and “dancing” to canned Depeche Mode.
The highlight of my 80’s nights, whilst semi-dancing to music I didn’t like and couldn’t understand (beneath black lights in a pseudo-rave bar)? Picking neon lint off of hipsters dressed in black whose veneers were another kind of delight- all that horsey dental work flashing, like fluoridated strobes, all shades of neon blue.
Finding The Cinema bar, a good 16 years after moving to LA, tore me up.
When I realized that this Americana scene, full of skinny dudes with awesome songs manhandling old guitars, wearing the Levi’s and the cowboy boots of my youth, with the camaraderie and seediness of a good Midwestern dive bar, that all this had existed all along but I’d been too busy designing ugly ass hi-top sneakers and wearing tight polyester bike shorts with belted jackets and Muglier shoulder pads whilst listening to KROQ…well, I sat down and cried.
By the time I found Randy, he had been in residence at the Cinema Bar on Saturday nights for years. Lucky for me, he’d be there for a few more. In those few years we became friends. I’m even on the liner notes of his album Sugarfinger, an album that my boyfriend eventually produced (with my dogged prodding, he was busy by then with REM, Courtney Love, Ryan Adams et al).
And, I met Lucinda Williams at The Cinema bar. Briefly. She was dark. Kohl eyed. Mumbly. Awesome. Her boyfriend at the time was Mike Stinson, the drummer in Randy’s band. By then, Lucinda had recorded Randy’s song, Can’t Let Go, for her album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.
I met Miss Pamela Des Barres there, too. A bit after Lucinda…Miss P was dating the same drummer after he and Lucinda split. Listen, the guy is an amazing drummer. Pamela was a vision with her twinkling eyes and ruby smile, watching her twirl on the dance floor made everyone wish they were in love, always.
I never caught Ryan Bingham at the Cinema Bar, although I heard he played there. I found Ryan through Shilah Morrow and her promotions group, SinCity, when they threw his Mescalito launch party in Hollywood.
I missed that party but googled Southside of Heaven. One listen and I was hooked. He has a voice that is at once raw and gorgeous, it is like no other. And, one look at him sent me cursing the gods that made age and whatever else come between us. It’s that smile, that cowboy smile.
The first time I saw Ryan play was at a hole in the wall venue in Topanga. It was bittersweet. That night, I so much wanted to share Ryan’s music with my boyfriend but we’d split. Instead, I went with a friend who could have cared less.
When I heard Southside of Heaven, it blew me away, you know that feeling- ecstatic and desperate, hungry and satiated, high and jonesing, you want more more more. Come on, you know what I am talking about! It’s more than that smile, its that voice…
If Randy Weeks was my homecoming, Ryan was my rocket back to the stars. That man is my Bob Dylan. My ___ (fill in your own blank, we all have our own thing going on).
I was in the audience of every LA area show Ryan played until I moved to CNY. Sometimes I’d go alone, most times I went went with my friend Bobbie who fell in love with Ryan just like me.
By coincidence, a year before I left LA, I was in the audience at the Oscar’s when Ryan won his Oscar for the soundtrack of Crazy Heart. Crazy. Heart.
Randy Weeks lives in Austin now and we’ve lost touch. Mike Stinson has his own Americana career via the Houston honkytonk circuit. Miss P became my writing mentor. Bobbie has visited me in CNY twice now and taken up portrait photography. I’ve moved to the east coast to an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to write, take photos, dream, and just recently I’ve reconnected with my ex.
Ryan is in Topanga prepping for another newer and larger tour than the last. The last time I saw him live was in a tiny venue and it felt like the last time I needed to. He hit it big. I knew he would.
Out here, we have Ommegang. And that is a very, very good thing. A great brewery that holds a great concert series in the summer- I’ve seen Steve Earle, Bon Iver, Lyle Lovett, Darius Rucker, Wilco, Cake and many others, almost all of them in one summer.
Not bad, but my dream line-up would be be Randy Weeks and Lucinda Williams with Ryan Bingham.
Miss P would be there dancing like a dream, Bobbie would be the official photographer and I’d be in the audience, on the grass, under the stars with you know who by my side.
A girl can only dream on such a winter’ day.
County Highway 19 and a tiny slap of Bukowski…plus Dunga Brook Diary in which I confess my Dream of being an iphone Ansel Adams…
“I loved you like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of.” ~Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell
Dunga Brook Diary, looking back, spring/summer 2011…
I bought a farmhouse that I found on Facebook.
I bought a farmhouse that I found on Facebook named Dunga Brook, the original homestead of a 2,000 acre dairy farm built in the 1820’s.
I bought a farmhouse with an acre of land, in a place I had never heard of, for $10,000, because of a post on Facebook.
Why did I do this? Because , because, because, because, because…
Because, I was on Facebook. Because back then I had that much money in the bank. Because I was without ties, because I was over my career in fashion, because I had a number one and only son who was going off to college in August, because if I didn’t do something drastic I would lose my mind when he left, because I had 25 years in LA under my belt (because 25 of those years had been spent wishing I was somewhere small town USA else), because, basically, I had to.
I wrote a poem once with the line, “the tragic leap is the only dance-step I know…”. Melodramatic, yes, but what I meant was, I don’t do things in half-measures. All in or all out.
My moves aren’t predicated on logic, wisdom, reality, time and space continuums, obligations, duty, society…when the voice inside my head says, “its time,” I dance.
So, when Tim Giblin, a man I barely new from an LA poetry class, posted a picture of a farmhouse on Facebook somewhere in New York on an April morning in 2011, I bought it.
Dunga Brook was for sale by owner and Tim, who lived next door, wanted someone he knew to be his new neighbor.
Turns out, you want to like your neighbors in the middle of nowhere.
I don’t think I was what he had in mind but if he was disappointed, he never let on.
That summer, my son and I had to live in a campground while Dunga Brook was being renovated. God knows we couldn’t live in her, she had been torn down by the elements (rain, snow, rain, snow, wind, rain, snow) and had been sorely mistreated by the last tenants who were, literally, squatters.
The squatters had destroyed a few of the things that the elements hadn’t yet (like the stairs to the second floor and the electrical panel in the stone basement) as a good ole country FU and goodbye.
Seems, the owner of the house had called the squatter’s closest relative, an uncle who once rented the house, and told him to deliver this message…”get out or we’ll burn the house down with you in it.” They did get out.
The KOA campground was the only place left for long-term rental that summer. I had no idea when I bought Dunga Brook that she was in the middle of the Cooperstown Dreams Park baseball summer mania.
Turns out that this little nowhere land turns into baseball central all summer long- there are baseball parks, baseball memorabilia shops, The Baseball Museum, baseball Hall of Famers are inducted out here, and the families of all the little baseballers from all over the world rent every little home and hotel room there is to be found while they pursue their mini major league Dreams in that Park.
So, into the last rental camper trailer at the KOA we went. Which thrilled my soon to be off to college son, Connor, to no end. His Dream had always been to live in a trailer.
That trailer magically led to a reconnection to my Dream. I practically grew up in a camper. My dad dragged us to every campground in the state of Florida and up the coast to Maine in back when I was a child. Camping is in my bones, my heart and my soul.
What camping meant to a shy little girl was hours and hours of roam time, commune time, Dream time with all the little creatures and plants and water bodies of the earth.
And here I was, iphone in hand, lucid dreaming in a land of such staggering beauty that I couldn’t understand what the big deal was with all that migration west . Who could leave this place?
Thanks to that migration, CNY – as compared to LA – was essentially empty, save the baseballers and their families crowded into Cooperstown Dreams Park.
Suddenly, I understood what I was meant to do with that iPhone in my hand. Take pictures. Take a million bazillion gazillion pictures of my Dream. Lay down in the grass with my face in the dirt and breathe. Look up to the sky at the clouds marching by and breathe. click. click. click.
Suffice it to say, I took over 20,000 iPhone pictures that summer while I waited for that house to be rebuilt and not one human besides my son and my shadow got in the way of a sunset, a sunrise, a crystal clear lake, a wild flower, a you name it.
By fall, I had carpal tunnel. Turns out you can’t just take 20,000 iPhone pictures, edit them and upload them to Facebook, regale everyone with the beauty you have found, the Dream you have landed in the middle of, without paying a price.
I would lie in bed at night, my right arm in the air and cry, it hurt so bad. I googled iPhone and carpal tunnel and ah ha, yes, of course.
Luckily for me, there are a lot of great people up here, that is the yummy little secret of this place.
Yes, it is in the middle of nowhere, NYC is 4 hours away, Boston, the same, the nearest Starbucks is 90 miles away (this is how a LA person views the world)…but the people who live up here are amazing, educated, brilliant, fun, artistic, earthy, gorgeous, adventurous, and exactly what I wasn’t expecting to find.
Somehow, between taking a picture of everything that did and didn’t move, I met all of them.
My carpal tunnel was cured by one of the best massage therapists I have ever met who also, to my great delight, somehow ended here. Cheryl Rosen of The Spring House Spa in Sharon Springs saved my life. Well, my arm. And a lot of sleepless nights.
This April, 6th, 2013, I have a *photography show at the Cherry Branch Gallery, two years from the day that Tim Giblin posted a picture of a little broken farmhouse named Dunga Brook on Facebook.
*Vicki Whicker shoots all her photos with an iPhone, edits them in iphoto and pic monkey and Dreams of being an iPhone Ansel Adams.
“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and trouble is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” ~John Keats
Via Kevin Sessums: “John Keats penned this in 1819, to George and Georgina Keats in a letter that has become known as The Vale of Soul-Making.”
An excerpt from Dunga Brook Diary
Dunga Brook Diary, Spring 2011
I’m sitting on my couch with the mac on my lap. Through the ripped screen door I hear the Saturday street sounds of my relatively quiet Pacific Palisades neighborhood, random bird calls, cars wooshing by, a skateboarder practicing, dogs barking in back yards looking for a way back in.
I am looking for a way out. Of LA. For months now. Years really. But especially now in the spring of 2011 because in June Connor is actually going to graduate from Pali High.
Somehow, he is pulling it off. Good for him, he did it in a most impressive underdog coming from the back of the pack way and, to top it off, he wrote a letter of introduction to the ONE college he wanted to go to that was so convincing they ignored his academic past and welcomed him into the fold.
So, here I am in a land that I don’t love (limitless sunshine, relentless fruits and nuts, dead-end career, ridiculously high cost of living, negligible love life, friends with their own lives to dig out from, etc, etc).
Here I am in my rented cottage with the ripped screen door, the missing shutters (I had to pull them down when they went sideways and dropped slats after the last El Nino), the crumbling tar paper roof and plaster facade.
Here I am surrounded by McMansions where other little cottages stood but have since been demolished in the past 15 years I’ve lived here.
Here I am facing life without Connor in a place I have been dying to get out of since the day I moved here 25 years ago when Tim posts a picture of a little white farmhouse and the caption, “Who wants to be my neighbor?”
I don’t know Tim all that well. He is a 20 liner (20 liners is the online poetry group I started with other *Jack Grapes alumni) and we’ve done a few readings together. I met him in Jack’s Method Writing class.
Tim is dark and broody, like Brooklyn used to be. A memorable writer, he’d stand like a broken fighter and mumble his assignments in front of the adoring, mostly middle-aged, mostly female, class while scratching his belly (somehow always visible), looking like he just rolled out of bed at 5pm. Hot.
Tim moved back to Brooklyn years before and I’d followed his journeys through FB posts and through his 20 liner poems. We all spilled our guts elliptically through our 20 liner poems so I knew a lot about Tim and his proclivities, just as I had to assume he knew much about me and mine.
After LA, he went to South America where he bought a nag and lived like a gaucho for a while, then he came back and bought a farm with 9 acres in central New York.
I eat up his posts of pictures of the farm still under snow in late spring, of his vegetables in late summer, of his rusted out farm equipment, all year round.
I look at that little white farmhouse that Tim has posted and it takes me about 3.5 seconds to post back, “ME”.
I don’t think “Where is it?” or “Will I like it?”
This is what I have been waiting for– this little white farmhouse in the middle of who knows where is my ticket out of LA.
..click on https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2741858938116.2133629.1006731279&type=1&l=0abb6dd66b to see my FB gallery of Dunga Brook before and after
..check back to see the story unfold, forgive misspellings, weird phraseology, wrong tenses, confusing thinking…one dreams of an editor to fall from the heavens whose sole purpose in life is to iron all of that out, doesn’t one?
(*Jack Grapes of Los Angeles Poets and Writers Collective. I met Jack at his booth at The Los Angeles Festival of Books, I knew right then that I had to study with this jolly man in the shape of a grape with the leonine head of Walt Whitman- sans the full beard and long hair. BEST DECISION EVER. He changed my life. More on Jack later, he deserves his own post, but if you have the chance to study with him, it will, as he says, change your life. http://jackgrapes.com)