The Hubbard Hall Effect

UPDATE – Any local fans of the Hubbard Hall magic will be seeing the Genie on this year’s playbill.  Word on the street is this year’s roster is going to be a good one.  Check out the fall schedule and find season tickets here:  2012-2013 Season

Signed prints, matted to fit an 11 x 14 are available on archival paper for $20 + $3 shipping, with 10% of each purchase going to Hubbard Hall.  I can take checks or send a paypal invoice.  Email me at rachel@www.pickingmybattles.com for  more information. 

Original Post:There’s something magical in Cambridge, and while this post may seem like a shameless plug for the place that’s making it happen, I’m actually hoping that the writing will be like the rubbing of a genie’s lamp.

 

My husband was lured to the Hubbard Hall’s Theatre Company by another actor from Arlington. The invitation came at just the right time – he had engaged in a protracted battle with partial blindness that ended in stalemate – and at first he thought they had found the wrong man for the part. It turned out that the part – playing a slow-witted monk in a medieval monastary – was exactly what he needed and at exactly the right time.

Working, as many Vermonters do, at a job that sees little change or opportunity for growth (but for very nice people) and depressed from numerous healthcare battles that seemed to pop out of nowhere, he suddenly found himself under the spell of a company of players who had more faith in his acting potential than he did. And, while the play was important, it was the company that was the thing. This seemingly diverse tightly-knit group opened the seams long enough to let him in, and there he has stayed. And then the magic grew, and he invited our son in.

Thing 1 is not a huge fan of art museums, so we knew taking him to something with word Shakespeare in it could end badly, but my husband was enjoying the theatre so much that he decided to drag someone along, and Thing 1 happened to be handy (Thing 2 wasn’t theatre-trained yet). I watched him ride away, slumped in the front seat, determined to show Dad how wrong he was about Shakespeare and theatre. Three hours later they were charging back down the driveway, laughing and chatting, and Thing 1 was hooked. He hasn’t missed any of Dad’s performances since.

But the Hubbard Hall effect had just begun. As our family became friendlier with members of the theatre company, I began searching for writing classes. My harrassment of Hubbard Hall’s artistic director paid off, when he announced that he had convinced Jon Katz to lead a writing workshop. The discovery that there was a screening process was a worry, but I got lucky and got in.

We kicked off the first session with nervous but friendly introductions, and I think all of us were nursing a few insecurities at the beginning of the evening. But it was clear that our esteemed (I still say fearless) leader was not willing to feed those demons or to foster any competition or back-biting. When we left, the spell was taking effect, and within the week, we were reaching out to each other from our respective corners, marveling at the impact the group and the Project was having on our psyches.

Both boys are now fully under the spell at summer workshops offered by Hubbard Hall, and my mornings are spent working at a picnic table under a tree on their green. From my vantage point I see Cambridge residents flow in and out of morning fitness and music classes and, as they stop to commune with each other, I realize that the magic in this place isn’t just about theater or art or music or writing or any of the other educational opportunities it provides. It is about the connections it creates far beyond its borders. So as I rub my lamp, my wish is for all of us who are lucky enough to be touched by this magic to take a little piece of it out into the world and let it grow again.

 

Images of Vermont

Working from home is a blessing for a mom. Some days, however, when the kids are home from school and hitting the sibling rivalry part of the day, it can feel more like a curse. Yesterday was one of those days.

My shift was over, and when my husband got home, I announced I needed to fill up the car, and took off for the filling station. I drove along the Battenkill and, noticing the pink light hitting the mountains and river, decided to take a longer drive on the other, even quieter side of the river. I filled up and drove to the New York border before crossing the bridge to River Road, a dusty drive stretching back to the middle of Arlington. This time of year, the sun lingers in the notch between the mountains, and the golden light covers the fields and water with a pinkish cast.

My time was short so I decided to cross back at the covered bridge. This particular bridge sits just across the green from Norman Rockwell's former studio and is the most-photographed bridge in Vermont. The most common view, from the main road features the red bridge in the foreground, accented by a white church and a bed-and-breakfast in the background.

My favorite view, however, is the angle Rockwell would have seen every morning – a farm and field and the church take the foreground, and the quaint old bridge is almost hidden by a sprawling maple tree. I love it because, unlike the picture postcard view, coming at the bridge from the back lets me see the human side of Vermont. It lets me see the upscale vacation homes intermingled with hardscrabble family homesteads and more modern middle-class homes. I pass joggers and tourists and farmers working from dusk till dawn. Rockwell's view would have included the farms and some of the homesteads, and even though houses are more plentiful (even since I've been driving this route), I always cross the bridge back to my reality with the feeling that Rockwell actually got Arlington right.

Interest in his work is reviving recently, but there are always critics who pan his paintings as sanitized, schmaltzy views of an America that never existed. However, when I look at the images he painted here (featuring models plucked from the local population, some of whom still live here), I see the work of a great artist and interpreter – I see what we live everyday.

I see born Vermonters and transplants alike showing up for annual potlucks with their contributions and setting their differences aside, if only for a few hours. Even in 2012, I still see abandoned bikes at the edge of the Green River and their scrawny owners swimming in it in whatever they happened to be wearing when they got hot. I see farmers and laborers at the country store arguing politics and philosophy with professors and holding their own doing it. I see faces (native and newcomer) worn from living in perpetual recession – a situation I see in many rural areas in this country. And, just as Rockwell would have seen when he lived here in the 40s, I see people who survive the job losses and the elements and who may falter but who still manage to keep their humanity about them. It is a picture that, like Rockwell's paintings, can seem idealized when viewed from a distance, but is infinitely more complex. You just have to look closer.

 

Metamorphosis

As my son stands in the doorway of our cluttered mudroom, his clothes soaked to the skin from an afternoon of tubing down the Battenkill and jumping in ponds, it occurs to me that we have become hillbillies.

To be sure, we have created the right atmosphere. There’s the perennial appearance of our thirty-year-old mercedes on blocks; the woodshed built for strength but impermanence for the benefit of the tax assessors; the garden that sometimes looks like a weed sanctuary and an ever-evolving parade of animals streaming through a mudroom littered with shoes and skates and garden implements.

And, in spite of our diminishing efforts to stay connected to trends and the city, life and location have conspired to turn us and our kids into hicks .We have learned the difference between hay and straw. Our kids picky about when their peas are picked. They have developed an affinity for dirt and allergies to soap (so they claim). They have never slept a day on a set of matching sheets or worn a color-coordinated outfit to school.

Living on a mountain far from many friends has taught us to find enjoyment close to home and our kids to find fun in the forest. Bills and a sparse employment landscape have taught us all the value of financial security but also that people without it still have value. We have learned to make do and to be happy doing without. Watching neighbors share food,money, and labor has taught us all to do for others and when to lean .

As Thing 1 and I debate whether he should leave the wet clothes (made filthy by a day of cheap, low-tech fun) outside or in the mudroom, I come to the conclusion that being a hillbilly is a pretty good thing.

 

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Saturdays With Art

We are not religious, we don’t go to church or temple, but we do have our own acts of faith and sacred rituals.

My garden is my act of faith. Saturdays we have art, and the seemingly mundane little ritual has become a sacred thing for our family. It started a few years ago when a five-figure health care bill performed a total cashectomy on our budget, temporarily but severely curtailing our other favorite ritual – breakfast at Bob’s.

While brunch at our favorite diner became unaffordable, we were fortunate to still be living in an area rife with art.  Vermont is a haven for artists in every media, and there is always an opening (complete with snacks) or a free library gallery. Combined with a smattering of music groups and museums offering free admission on Saturdays throughout the year, it was possible to spend most of the day feeding our souls for the cost of a gallon (or two) of gas.

 

We’ve retreated from the abyss of financial meltdown, and breakfast at Bob’s is once again part of our Saturdays. But Saturday is still a day of rest. It is still a day of finding beauty and discovering the divine in our neighbors and our little world.

Thing 2 loves it; Thing 1 is not such a fan of museums without gadgets (we keep telling him he’ll thank us someday). And, while the adventure of shepherding two boys on a weekly journey of discovery can be frazzling, accepting the chore of keeping them in line each Saturday afternoon has resulted in an unexpected contribution to the nurture of our family’s soul that is now as sacred to us as any Sunday.