Sara Whitman

Downeast... Again

Filed By Sara Whitman | July 18, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: coming home, Maine, rustic living, sanctuary, simple life

It's beautiful. Ok, it's foggy and chilly but right now that feels great.

downeast.jpgI don't care what my kids say, the minute they start driving down the road to the house? their energy perks up and they start talking about all the stuff they do here... even Mr. Ben boy.

Yuh. They hate it. Yuh.

At a low point, when I was feeling really bad about spending the money on this place, that it was our "baby" to save the "marriage," Jeanine reminded me we gave the kids an experience they would never have had in their lives. We'll sell it, sure. But not for a while.

I've invited many folks and few have come. It's not for the weak, I suppose. It always hurts my feelings a little because it is so special to me. Even Jeanine hems and haws. Bah I say. Bah.

Part of what has been difficult this week has been a power and privilege play. I have hurt a good, dear friend. I never meant to. It kills me to think I hurt her.

I never see myself as powerful. I understand I'm privileged. Somewhere in there, I need to make a connection that I'm missing. I'm often embarrassed by my privilege. But it's there. Hiding from it doesn't make it not so. Nor does it mean I have to give it all away to be a "good" person.

Why is that so hard for me?

Not going to figure that out tonight. No mussels for dinner this weekend, it's red tide. There is a good boat for sale that I may just go ahead and buy. I so want a boat to go play on. have since I was a kid staying on Canadaigua lake. It's a Boston whaler, sturdy and not prone to tipping. It's the boat Bob and Mary, the lobsterfolks, used last year to pull traps, which makes me think it's way too big but... it would come with their help and guidance.

They make me smile so much. Raspberry ripple, you know. Haven't found any yet but still looking.

Donald told me the big news- a new Hannaford supermarket was opened. At least everything will be in date- maybe. We passed the blueberry fields and the portapotties were being brought out to the tiny cabins for the migrant workers. Ben is starting to understand about his privilege. We had a good talk about what it would be like to have to live like that. I reminded him his great grandmother, grandmother and great uncles lived in a boxcar, and followed the seasons to pick whatever was there, whatever they could make money doing.

He reminded me that his other grandmother never picked a thing and was related to George Washington. I said, yup. You got both worlds going on. Be true to both.

My sister reminded me the other day about how far he has come. How hard it was only a few months ago. I look at him and am so grateful we are where we are.

Jake asked me, as we were settling in, if Walter and Allan were going to take their stuff from here. I said we hadn't decided what to do about that yet. Soon, people up here will see the car in the driveway and stop by and ask about them. I'm not sure what to say. They all accepted our weird family with open hearts. And now it's broken and I feel the failure. This place, all the homes down here, are old old old. families own them for generations.

And here we are. New, and already broken.

Sadness. The sign with all our names on it is still in the magic shed (it's the all purpose shed on the property that has always had everything we needed in it- tools, wicks, oils, buckets, ropes, ladders... a friend deemed it the magic shed because whatever you needed magically appeared.)

Do I burn it? Or do I toss it in the pile of other shit here, some totally useless, for the next owner to find and wonder about. There is so much in this house, the dome, the shed, that covers the 110 years it's been here. The captain's quarters sign, AB Seaman and spare signs, from the shipwreck the wood to build the house was scavenged from. Books from the early 1900's, old wood toys most certainly coated with lead paint, and all the antique lanterns we light every night.

Maybe it just belongs here as part of it's history. I don't know. I just don't feel as vengeful as I did a few months ago.

One of the propane lights broke and was leaking gas. Yikes. A burner on the stove is clogged. A-yuh. I'll get to it. No sign of porkchop- I don't really care. I don't have a garden. There are plenty of trees for it to munch on. Live and let live.

Mind you, I throw the fish I catch back in the water, too. I don't really have the heart to kill things. Except mice. I can kill a mouse. Well, not personally. I'd be shrieking too loud.

Maybe that would kill them. Hmmmm.

For now? A glass of wine in front of the fire. Yes, a fire. It's not cold but there is a chill. A game of gin with Jake. Light the lanterns- it's already getting a little dark. I'll make some dinner, and when it gets truly dark, everyone is ready for bed- even if it's 9pm. I love that.

I'm in downeast. Again. It is where my soul rests for a while.

And the boys... even though they complain? Seem to find some peace, too.

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i always wonder how different maine would be if people from massachusetts stopped buying camps, lake houses and second homes here...

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 19, 2010 10:51 AM

Answer, poorer off. Beautiful imagery Sara. Sorry about your friends problem whatever it was. Tell Ben I was just happy to be related to my grand dad ;).

An economy based on the occasional influx of cash from out-of-staters is usually not a healthy economy, and that's a point worth considering even as we ruminate on the beauty of the places we visit. And it's worth talking about efforts to build a more sustainable local economy. It doesn't have to be an either/or situation (no tourists/too many), but let's not shut down these conversations before they begin. Especially when they're initiated by the people who actually live in places like Maine, as Ryan does.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 19, 2010 9:45 PM

"Based upon?" Did I use that phrase? I like to consider Colonial Williamsburg. This historical jewel languished in decay until horrible outsiders rescued it, saving many buildings and reconstructing those that had been on site. Fortunately the British kept the town plans including schematics of buildings. I am not suggesting that Sara's plot along the sea is of this importance, but it is important to preserve what is best. As to a local sustainable economy that is largely a states own issue.

i think defining what "poorer off" means might be more helpful here than suggesting tourist dollars = better off.

subsistence farming, wood lotting, fishing, clamming, lobstering and light manufacturing (did you know maine produces the most toothpicks in the united states!) have served our communities well over the last 100+ years.

does this make us poor? or does having a huge influx of massachusetts, connecticut and new york upper middle class folks moving in and buying second homes (which in turn gentrifies and raises property taxes) make us poorer off because people lose their homes?

poorer, maybe by upper middle class standards. but i think the influx of second homers or recreational property owners from out of state who inadvertently raise property taxes (through gentrification) on the working class folks who live and work here needs to be examined. i'm not against raising standards of living or people making enough to get by comfortably, but those things should be set by the local people (it's called self-determination).

interesting question. I do think tourism is high on the list of income but I don't know that off the top of my head.

I can say I bought a house that was built in 1900. I haven't done anything to change it. I haven't added any value to it except by living in it.

and I cherish it. deeply.

I pay taxes. I don't vote. I donate to LGBT causes in Maine. I love maine and will move there when the kids are all off. do I not have the right to be there until then?

People are losing homes all over the country. lobstering is down, more restrictions being placed on fishing every day. the community of pre victorian homes where I have the house gathers once a summer to donate to a scholarship to the local high school. local craftsmen are hired to to work, watch properties... is it enough? god no. some summer people suck, no question. but to cast a pall on all of us? not fair.

To be fair to all sides, asking legitimate questions that don't usually get asked about such matters isn't casting a pall on everyone. It's simply raising questions.

sara, the crazy thing is that no matter how benevolent (y)our intentions are, negative impacts can and will still be part of the outcome from our privileged actions.

i don't believe in an isolantionist or essentialist idea of what it is to be a mainer and i'm not really invested in a conversation about who has the right to be here. but i am highly skeptical of what the huge influx of middle and upper-middle class people primarily from mass/ct/ny does to the place i call home. how it changes it, for better and worse. simply asking the question doesn't mean i think you are bad or not welcome, but i hear your story about summering in maine all season long and i can't help but think of the long term implications of shifting from a subsistence economies to a service/tourist economy.

unfortunately robert can only conceive of working class down east folks as culturally bankrupt, which says a lot about the arrogance of urban gay folks that flock to maine in the summer. as if we don't have a rich cultural heritage in the small towns of maine. just because our cultural spaces and events don't look the same as they do in urban centers doesn't make one set of cultural activities better or worse, just different. i would even argue that people come here not just because of its beauty, but because it IS culturally different.

as for gentrification and rising property taxes... there are perennial battles over rising taxes in rapidly gentrifying small coastal towns along the coast every election year. it manifests as the Tax Payer Bill of Rights (TABOR), a highly contentious issue that comes out of frustration with taxes, particularly rising property taxes in the coastal regions as a result of gentrification. this isn't some imagined critique, it is the material outcomes of gentrification in a state that has always had a humble economy.

also, robert. i recommend not posturing as if your occasional visits to maine make you a better expert about maine politics than queer activists that live here. the "i've been there once so i must be more informed" attitude has got to go.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 20, 2010 9:19 PM

Ryan, I have never been to Maine, never claimed to be in Maine, but "state politics" are remarkably similar at every local level. I have been as far north as Salem Mass. I would add that I have no interest in visiting the tooth pick plant.

My roots are in Warsaw Indiana, I grew up in Michigan City Indiana, I got my undergrad and post graduate degrees in the midst of cornfields in Indiana. Yazmin and I even share one university. I shared another with Squeaky Fromme.

I did though, as my father worked for the railroad, enjoy every chance to culturally immerse myself in Chicago from an early age. My country values were enriched by museums, theaters, interesting and generous Chicago residents. This is not to say there is no culture in Indiana. It is just different. Those who share learn. Those who insulate themselves as "locals" I can also enjoy myself at a rodeo, horse pull, fishing, livestock auction or county fair.

As to a "service" economy we had best look at the entire country. If we continue to throw away all of our manufacturing soon toothpicks will follow. Dental floss and water picks will rule. ;) There is no reason why any state cannot have BOTH responsible manufacturing and tourism plus part time residents. It is not an either/or question.

Regarding property taxes it is *your job* to work within your state to equalize them. I will tell you that during my five year stint as a Florida resident I could not believe that the state would charge foreign individuals and part time residents double the resident rate when they were not even schooling children in the state. That was blatantly unfair to part time residents whether they were American citizens or not.

And Ryan, I came to Chicago at age twenty-two with a Masters and no money. Chicago is a great place to secure your future. I began my own company by age twenty-six. People get to make their own choices and I think you have chosen Maine. I support that and it is a great thing for you to be so very happy with where you live... Twenty-three years later I retired and along the way was able to give honorable service to my community as a whole, rather than just queer activists. I am still doing the same in Thailand with HIV positive people and orphaned children. These are my passions you see and I get to choose my own passions as well.

And Ryan, I suggest you stop posturing as though your occasional visits to Warsaw Indiana, Michigan City or Chicago make you a better expert in living than others. Good luck to you. I hope you change the world for the better. I like you Ryan, and I love your passion. Peace!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 19, 2010 10:01 PM

Ryan, the influx of dollars and the preservation of property that would be less apt to be standing were it not for the interest in the beauty of your state does not suggest you would be "poorer off" just financially, but culturally.

Your premise about property tax increases caused by "gentrification" has a major fault in it that I visited during my years in Chicago. Good tax payers like Sara are paying toward education, infrastructure, and health care in your state. What proof do you have that your property taxes would not be higher if Maine was kept only to Mainers? And also, how much economic vitality from outside the state has Maine attracted through it's physical beauty? Be certain to visit the new Hannaford super market and enjoy the fresh foods that would not be there otherwise.

I am also amused that my mere four sentences arouse such reactions from yourself and the always charming Ms. Nair. Or specifically, one three word sentence.

It's only personal if you make it about you and not the point, Robert, so stick with the point.

Gentrification's no doubt a complicated matter, and certainly a lot more complicated than "good taxpayers" from the outside helping with education, infrastructure. Of course, what rampant gentrifiers in Chicago forget (as I know too well, having fought many battles against them in Uptown) is that the supposed schmucks living in the neighbourhoods they would like to raze and rebuild in some fantasy of suburbia (the gentrifying practice in Chicago) happen to be "good taxpayers" as well and they want excellent schools and street lighting as well. It's easier to push out poorer residents in Chicago because we are in the Midwest - section 8 residents can find themselves relocated right out of the state. That's more difficult in Manhattan, hence the larger tension between gentrifiers and residents.

But an area with a more robust economy that paid attention to its strengths and did not simply depend wholesale on outsiders would do a lot better in the rough times. The current economic crisis has shown the pitfalls of depending on the vagaries of gentrification - the new and empty condominium buildings just blocks in every direction from my apartment speak to that.

I think the relatively simple point from Ryan and others, including me, is that making a state's economy so dependent on matters like tourism is simply dangerous. No one's threatening to roust all tourists out of the state for the sake of it. And I think we can depend on the "natives" knowing where their markets are and supporting them.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 20, 2010 8:00 AM

Point? Sara writes about rural coastal America and you make it about urban Midwestern America.

I will say that all the time I, and my neighbors in the two block clubs we started, spent in housing court in Chicago through 20 years came to a good end in my community in Chicago forcing scofflaw landlords of multi unit buildings to keep them safe and habitable in the Logan Square community. I have been in homes of good people who did not deserve to live with rats, frayed electrical wiring, measurable lead in their water, floors and porches that could fall through to the apartment below.

From the mid 1970's onward it was apparent that vast swatches of cheaply built two flats all over the city would not long stand. You choose to live near the lake, you get what you choose to live near. Our community based plan was to replace any condemned two flat property with a single family affordable house. It became an unbreakable rule. Many of these were set asides for section 8 housing as well. Would you have us return to the good old murderous days of Cabrini Green? Now that is some example of urban renewal.

The issue is of who decides to define what makes a place habitable and for what ends and what effects that has in the long run on a place's economy. You raised Chicago, I didn't, and as someone who actually lives there I wanted to make sure people understood the facts. But the issues surrounding gentrification in a larger Midwestern city are, economically, the same surrounding gentrification in the prettier spots of Maine.

This is a public blog - commenters do have a right to raise issues they feel are connected to posts that go up.

The Chicago of today frowns upon single family units, preferring to demolish them in favour of now-empty condominium flats (and it has for a long time - as many excellent histories of Chicago's housing demonstrate). Cabrini Green's residents are still looking for housing, by the way. And while life was by no means perfect, it was also community for a lot of people. The history of the projects is a lot more complex than the demonised one perpetually raised by most, especially by a city that has an interest in perpetuating racist and anti-poor gentrification measures disguised as "urban renewal."

Have a fabulous week, everyone.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 20, 2010 9:26 AM

I read your link. They closed 660 at last because "it was too dangerous to live there" presumably due to low occupancy. Section 8 vouchers have been given and even one of the comments indicated that his friend living in the building had been given a full 180 days notice.

And this is still not Logan Square or Pilsen for that matter. The residents of that building knew for ten years they were on borrowed time to stay there. Federal housing funds have been getting cut annually for twenty years! Jayne Byrne even tried to live in Cabrini during her term to force the police to end the spiral of violence. I left Chicago in 2002 and SINGLE FAMILY dwellings were a major component of the redevelopment of the area including section 8 housing units. Standards for section 8 housing are very high in Chicago. Far better than the people I worked to assist who were just the working poor.

Putting people in a high rise dangerous slum, with non functioning elevators and functioning gangs, in a situation where even ambulance attendants will not visit to give assistance to a health emergency because of personal danger is not a workable solution either. I am pleased for you that you live in a neighborhood that is so desirable to developers. Many more are not.

Have a greatly restful week, Sara. You've earned it! I hope to visit your Downeast spot some time. Sit on rocks, contemplate the world, maybe even tool around in the boat. The sign? All things in due time. Do nothing permanent with that sign. Ya never know how things will evolve and change and move forward. See ya when you get back.

oh it's been a few crazy months, hasn't it sue?

I will keep the sign. I'm not sure where we will end up.

just sad right now.