Monday, December 24, 2007

good folks

good folks,

i hope this finds you all well & happy. this is my attempt to express the goings-on of 2007. i hope you enjoy.

how is it that i find myself in the mountains of western north carolina? this year has been a journey, for certain. after spending christmas this time last year with sam, tamyra, kieran, and their friends and family, i drove eight hours south to san diego for mackenzie's grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary just before 2007 began, returning to spend new year's back in the bay area. funny, during this trip, i kept thinking about some tips a native of marin county had given me just before i left cambridge. two things to do while in marin: go to fairfax scoop for ice cream and watch a sunset on mt. tam. i remember saying these things to sam even. it wouldn't be until june of this year, but i did end up doing both, and with the native himself.
back in new england, after successfully enabling my supervisors at harvard to travel to angola (the inspiration for this image: thanks again, jim), i used my overtime money to pull off my fast-approaching birthday soiree. i turned 30 with gusto at the american legion hall on the charles river, receiving warm accolades and affirmation from sweet friends. friends who, when gathered in one place as they lovingly were, accurately showcased the eight years of my sundry exploits in the boston area. i hope i close out my future decades as solidly.

this new decade and the winter months were made much cozier with new love (enter the marin native). elam and i had crossed paths a few times in recent months through mutual friends and interests, eventually taking a keen interest in one another. we went out to hear some wonderful music, then he offered me a ride to NY, both of us heading that way for the weekend. we parted ways upon arrival, but i came to see him perform in brooklyn. i had met a few of his closest friends, and he got the chance to meet my closest college friend, a native of brooklyn who was visiting from her transplanted home on the w. coast. i remember thinking it was interesting that we shared these intimate moments so early on, but now it only feels normal. back in cambridge, elam played on my actual birthday in a small, dim irish pub steps from my apartment. mackenzie and her boyfriend greg, my friend sue, and a couple of elam's friends came. i was touched by the music and thrilled with the possibility of what this warm fellow could open up in my life.
traveling would become something we did often together. we took a couple of weekend trips to spots new to us -- coastal maine for him, a beautiful spot of western mass. for me. he then told me that he would be traveling to texas for a folk festival, his mecca, in the late spring, and wasn't sure how long he would be gone. i took this information in and mulled it over. while new england had been good to me in many ways, for some time i had pondered moving elsewhere; closer to family, familiarity, a warmer clime, etc. perhaps joining him on this trip would be a way to begin a real search. after the culmination of a huge project i was in charge of at my job, i made it my grand finale by giving my notice. in return, i was given a royal sendoff, and felt much appreciated and encouraged on this next phase. i had come to the realization that i wanted to return to the local community and labor-oriented work i was engaged in before my time at harvard, so this break was also a chance to find a path back to that.

we set sail for texas the day after my last day of work and hours after elam had finished working exhaustedly at the house he and his friend joakim had been restoring just blocks from my apartment. it was a rough start, but we made it to yellow springs, OH late that night at my cousin erika's family's home, a perfect 1/2-way mark on the way to oklahoma, our next stop. we spent a fun breakfast with erika and her son colin on their back porch, then continued on to pawhuska, OK to my mom's. elam was still peaked from having worked himself so hard, full of dust and allergies from the old house in cambridge, so my mom offered him her apple cider vinegar remedies. we visited the tallgrass prairie and the buffalo were roaming over the ridge just as we pulled over to take their picture. the next stop was oklahoma city, where elam met my dad and some friends, had some backyard BBQ, and some of dad's garage-door therapy. we didn't have much time because the kerrville folk festival would begin just 6 days after we left cambridge. we made it there for the first evening, but only after having braved what felt like some of the heaviest and most exciting thunderstorms i've ever driven in (and that's saying something) along the way.

kerrville was something else. it was my first time at the festival, elam's third. it lasts 18 days in the hill country of TX. you camp, volunteer if you want (which makes it free), and listen to music pretty much all day long, whether to someone on stage or around a campfire. i worked in the kitchen cooking for and serving the hundreds of volunteers with a spirited crew, including charlie, my favorite, a vietnam vet who apparently had been camping all over TX since he returned from the war, and was in the best humor, just zany enough for my liking. i had no idea that many hippies existed in that part of the country, but there they were. kerrville was educational in many ways. i had a hard time adjusting at first and was having a sort of identity crisis, summed up in the poem below that i jotted down one afternoon. but i was moved by much of it, and certainly by its effect on elam. in the end, i decided to just let it move me.

Hilltop afternoon in a new place.
Gatherings are not new,
And this place not all unfamiliar,
Yet the scene is to my virgin eyes and
I'm trying to absorb it without looking too hard.
Are these natives?
How much meaning is there behind these sayings?
My politics are not what brought me here,

And yet, they are part of it.
Absence of protest, planning, organizing.
It rings in my ears, mostly because that has been

my contribution
to this effort. Peace, but more so, change.

Similar. And not.
Yet as I walked to the muddy parking lot,
passing people on their various meanderings,
it struck me that, politics are here.
They are just not (always) emblaz
oned or
Everyone here is embraced.
So I'm easing up.

Is this camping? Yes. And other things.
I don't always have to be either an observer
or a participant.

I see connections. And that is the point.
Keep moving forward.
Not setting up.
People around me recalling the past.

I feel free to ponder and want to keep it free,
not grasping.
Perhaps it is the lack of medium with which
to express. Yes, that is part of it.
Well, what shall my medium be?
I have one in the kitchen because the inte
will it so.

Trained un-cynicism.
There's a sweet wind.

we continued across the country, stopping to see elam's birthplace in the mountains of northern new mexico, then on to his father's in cathedral city, southern california, and up to his mother's in san anselmo, in the town over from my brother's. we met each other's families and friends and saw a bit of where we each grew up. on the way back, we passed through the states i had never been to (idaho, montana, wyoming, the dakotas). we each hit our first animal and tried to comfort each other and keep moving at the same time. all in all, we were gone a month and a half, and slipped back into cambridge just before the fourth of july.
elam went to school outside asheville, NC, at warren wilson college, about 10 yrs ago. he had returned a few years ago and was inspired to buy a house, becoming a long-distance landlord from boston/cambridge. while we were on our road trip this summer, he found out the tenants were moving out. we sat at a mexican restaurant in austin, TX, and broached the subject of moving somewhere together. then we sipped our sweet teas and sat on it for awhile. later on the trip, we decided we would make the leap together to asheville at the end of the summer. i phoned my roommate of 7 years and best homeslice, mackenzie, from somewhere on highway 1 in CA to give her the heads up on the shaping-up plan.

when we returned, we had about a month and a half to get ready, which passed in a whirlwind. we managed to say our goodbyes and pack it all up to arrive about 900 miles south in asheville in mid-august. though i had been searching for jobs online, i had yet to nail anything. but before i could begin an in-person search, we had to tend to the house, which involved ripping up carpet, scrubbing walls covered in schmutz, and basically being sweaty and disgusting most days.

work is the biggest drawback of asheville, there being a dearth of full-time, decent-paying jobs with benefits...but i'm working on that. i'm trying to fundraise in order to be able to do some worker organizing and labor solidarity-building here, and wrote my first grant proposal toward that end. that was a rewarding process to go through, and i'm not sure i would have had i not been as desperate as i was to get closer to that goal. i've found some folks to partner with, so am looking forward to the possibilities. for the time being, i'm working as "executive assistant" for medical services for the planned parenthood affiliate of the region.

we've mostly been busy delving into the mysteries of living together and of each other. i think we've made some beautiful progress on both counts.

i invite and encourage everyone to come visit us here in the blue ridge mountains of buncombe county, western north carolina. we've got a spare room and deluxe futon/air mattress accommodations just waiting for you. if you'd like to read/see elam's blogs of '08, go here and here.

take good care, love each other, and happy 2008!

be in touch,
cassie friend watters

rest in peace:

homi mehta (my uncle)

eli smith-watters (mackenzie and my beloved beast of a cat)
and the deer and jackrabbit we hit on our road trip.