In his stunning new memoir The Trouble with Kim: On Transcending Despair and Approaching Joy, the New Paltz writer, musician, and restaurateur Seth David Branitz goes deep into a troubled personal past. It is the story of a wildly dysfunctional New York City family from the 1970s through the end of the century, a family mired in poverty, violence, mental illness, and deepening cycles of futility and struggle. From these antecedents, the youngest child traces his own descent into addiction and inexpressible despair and longing, describing a circuitous route toward — not to — redemption, stability, forgiveness and something like happiness.
The arrows of crisis are all pointed up at precipitous angles, as officials and front-line workers scramble back into response mode, and a fatigued, near-broken populace moans “not that again,” as if it were another pointless Kardashian/Jenner news cycle. Some of the most embittered and suspicious among us arguing that is precisely what it is.
If you start to sentimentalize and tragedize your tinnitus—“for I shall never taste the silence of the night sky again”(pronounced ah-GAYN), then you’re really in for it. You’re ruined. Instead, I recommend considering all the rest of your reality as something equally unverifiable and incommunicable. Imagine all you perceive as your brain and sensory apparatus involved in a complex act of imitative modeling based on incomplete input, and not as the direct experience of creation through the open, undistorted tubes of your eyes and ears.
What I want is a New Paltz of diversity, a New Paltz with room for the down-on-their-luck, where people can still discover themselves in shambolic, affordable and undistinguished ways, a SUNY where a kid can act the dilettante without accruing a prison of debt, a New Paltz where doing nothing — big nothing, like what Marriott and Con Ed got done here — really means something.
In an inversion of normal that is par for the Covid-19 course, emails from several local venues in recent weeks have explicitly requesting that their events and who is performing and when not be mentioned. Actual billable hours are being spent on audience deterrence and show denial. The state is serious about enforcement.
Owner of Coldbrook Productions in Woodstock, Julie Last has seen it all. The California native came up as an audio engineer at the legendary Record Plant in New York City, the woman manager of which told her on her first day, “I don’t think you’ll last two weeks, but come back tomorrow.” She worked there for four years.
Here we look at the unique case of three returning natives, dual citizens of sorts who made a life and an identity elsewhere and are now in various states of return, perhaps driven here by urban hellscapes and the loss of sustaining work, perhaps pulled back by the place and the past. The question for them, as for us all, has never been why live here but how to make it work here. The traumatic Covid era is one in which societal and personal transformations intertwine. It is a time of reinvention.
With their facilities indefinitely unavailable, or available on terms so reduced it is nearly impracticable, arts organizations like New Paltz’ venerable Unison Arts Center are asking and answering the toughest questions about survival — economic and creative. Where is the soul of an arts center? Does it lie in the actual physical space, with the high ceilings, wood beams, track lighting and acoustic treatment? Or does it live in the curatorial and community impulse?
I don’t require a break from the daily writing interval itself. Flexing sentences each day keeps them plastic. Feeling out the form of a thought, or half of one, every day alerts you to your own habits and clichés, the most worn pathways of expression and ones you still might blaze. I do see growth as a result of the discipline, but growth in things like writing is never a steady plot. Like golf, lose confidence in your swing as a writer and you can go from a run of bests to a rut of worsts and have no idea what even happened.
In everything I do I am improviser per force and not by choice. Plans and designs do not take well in my neurological soil. There is a layer of static between conception and execution that has always been there. The blood that carries thought to action doesn’t make it to the tips of my mental fingers with all its properties intact. There’s a leak in the line.