creativity

A visit to NYC’s Merchant’s House Museum

Me and Ashley at the Merchant’s House Museum and the Tredwell family photos and bios

Last night I had a blast taking a ghost tour of the Merchant’s House Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan led by one of best and dearest friends, Ashley Semrick. She was, as always, incredible. A fellow tour guide who is responsible for me taking the NYC tour guide exam (which is a grueling 4 hours long!), we always nerd out about the incredible history of our city. Her dedication to the museum, a vital piece of NYC history, is a gift to all of us.

Built in 1832, the house in the only building in NYC that is landmarked on the federal, state, and city level, inside and out. When you enter, you are literally stepping back in time into the 19th century. The house is perfectly preserved with the original furniture and furnishings, personal belongings, books, artwork, dishes, kitchenware, piano, and even their clothes!

The house was occupied by the Tredwells, a wealthy merchant family, and their four Irish servants from1835-1865, when the mercantile seaport of New York City emerged as a growing metropolis and the commercial emporium of America. In 1865, just as the Civil War was drawing to a close, the patriarch of the family passed away in the house. Gertrude, the youngest of the 8 children, passed away in the house, in the same bed where she was born, in 1909 at the age 93. And that’s when things really got interesting from a paranormal perspective. 

There have been 100s, perhaps 1000s, of reports of supernatural activity in the house. It is the only museum in the country with a full-time all-volunteer paranormal team that employs impressive technology to capture activity. Though I didn’t see any ghosts on the tour, the house does have an energy to it that has to be experienced. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, a visit is a-must do activity in NYC.  

And the museum needs our help. For 10 years, they’ve been fighting an intense legal battle with a developer who wants to build an 8-story hotel right next to the museum. Engineering experts have said that if that happens, the museum will be rendered unsafe for anyone to enter. To lose this museum and this piece of NYC history would be tragic. With an all-volunteer staff, every dollar you donate and spend on tickets to tours and events goes directly to preserve this stunning space. 

Self-guided and guided tours operate on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The staff is entirely volunteers and they offer numerous events year-round, both in-person and online. Though most aren’t ghost-related and focus on the history of the home, the family, and our city, they all give you an opportunity to walk in the literal footsteps of the Tredwells. 

The holiday season is particularly special as the house is decked out in 19-century Victorian style, just as the Tredwells did for their famous celebrations and parties. There are musical events, readings, and performances. Go to https://merchantshouse.org/visit/ to learn more.

creativity

How I found the main setting for my third Emerson Page novel

The Fitzwilliam Museum entrance

For me, the setting of a novel is a character. It sets the stage for the action and houses the many revelations of a story. Right now I’m outlining and crafting the story of my third Emerson Page novel. I’ve had some ideas of what will happen but I was struggling with where to place this action. I wanted a spectacular, magical setting. Frustrated that I couldn’t find it, I put it away and focused on something else.

I opened up Google Maps and decided to look at the street view of my walk from Fitzwilliam College, my college at Cambridge University, to the building where I’ll be taking my classes. It’s a winding 30-minute route dotted with shops and eateries tucked into centuries-old architecture through what looks like Diagon Alley. It goes past Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge’s main museum. I looked up some images of the museum and the second I saw the entrance, I knew I’d found the main setting for the novel.

The museum is free for all, houses a spectacular collection of antiquities and rare books and manuscripts, and has a stunning library. It’s exactly what the books needs. Get ready for more museum adventures!

creativity

Joy today: Earth Day, Pete Seeger, and the New-York Historical Society

To celebrate Earth Day, I highly recommend a trip to NYC’s first museum, the New-York Historical Society, to see Hudson Rising, their gorgeous exhibit about the Hudson River. Inside you’ll meet a family friend of mine, folk singer Pete Seeger. We were introduced to him by another family friend, Faith Emerson Ward, my father’s childhood neighor. His boat, the Clearwater (a model of it is in the museum’s exhibit and is pictured here), was a common and prominent fixture in the Hudson Valley when I was a kid. At our annual Clearwater Festival, I ate stone soup, boarded the boat, and learned about environmental conservation. There, I first learned that not everyone loved and cared for the planet as we did so we had to show people why it mattered so much. I remember Pete as a kind, gentle, and unrelenting soul. This Earth Day, I’m thinking of him and his message. I’m sure he’d be proud to know how many of us are carrying on his legacy and working hard to help all people live in a way that supports life.

creativity

Joy today: T. rex exhibit at American Museum of Natural History

I literally gasped when I turned the corner to see the dinosaurs of the T. rex exhibit at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. It’s stunning and I learned so much about these magnificent animals. Absolutely go see it if you can! (All photos taken by me at the exhibit.)

 

creativity

A Year of Yes: NYC’s Museum of Trash

What is a museum? A collection of items meaningfully curated to tell a story. It can be large or small or any size in-between. It can be about 1 topic or about everything. It can be indoors or outdoors. There’s no right way to build a museum. Just make it matter.
 
That’s what I learned at The Treasures in the Trash Museum housed in the NYC Dept of Sanitation curated by Nelson Molina who worked for our wonderful city for over 30 years. He collected discarded items he found in the trash on his routes with DOS and there is now a mind-boggling treasure trove of items that represent the lives of countless New Yorkers.
 
I went with my adventure-seeking, history-loving pals, Ashley & Erin, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in New York. Everything from diaries to dishes to photographs and diplomas and art and pez dispensers and view finders and typewriters and a Star of David made from the steal of the World Trade Center to stained glass windows from a church and yes, even taxidermy in the form of an old dog and a crotchety rooster.
 
I’d tell you more but I can’t think of any words adequate enough to describe it. So just go. Meet Nelson and get to know the fellow New Yorkers you’ll never meet by seeing the things they kicked to the curb.
 
Thank you New York Adventure Club for the tour!
creativity

A Year of Yes: Storytelling dinner with New York City secret history

This week, I got some very exciting news today about my storytelling dinner with New York City secret history, all inspired by my time in Ireland: my #1 choice for a museum partner is very interested! Friends, swing for those fences and make ’em high. You never know what you can do until you try.

creativity

A Year of Yes: Heavenly Bodies at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

As a recovering Catholic, I rarely spend time in the Medieval section of the Met. But the Heavenly Bodies exhibit, complete with haunting music, is stunning. I had a hard time leaving because I was so captivated by it. I plan to go back several more times to see it and will head up to the Cloisters, too. It’s open until October and I highly recommend it. Beautiful curation.

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creativity

A Year of Yes: Museum of Vancouver’s Haida Now exhibit

I understand that museums have engaged in some unfortunate practices when it comes appropriating items from other cultures. It’s impossible to erase the past; we can make amends with respect, understanding, and concern. The Museum of Vancouver has begun the process of repatriation with the Haida Now exhibit, a thoughtfully curated exhibit done in collaboration with the Haida people. I was fortunate enough to see the exhibit while I was there this weekend. I’m still processing my thoughts and feelings about everything I learned, and I wanted to share these photos with you. Visit the exhibit’s website by clicking here.

 

creativity

A Year of Yes: Making time for Michelangelo at the Met

“The wait’s going to be at least an hour.”

That’s what one of the guides said to me at the Met when I inquired about the insanely long line to see the exhibit Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer. I almost left without seeing it. Almost. But then I remembered my commitment to say yes more often in 2018 (even though it was still 2017.)

So I wound my way through multiple gallery spaces and parked myself at the very end of the line. I knew it would be crowded; I doubted I would be able to get up close to the pieces. And that was okay with me. I just wanted to be in the presence of the work. So I waited. For about 10 minutes, not even close to an hour, and then I was there. The first part of the exhibit was crowded but I was able to get up close to the work in many of the galleries. Very close to it.

“Yes, I’ll stay in line” was the right answer.

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Toward the end of the exhibit, I came to this placard. It’s short story hit me right in the gut. I audibly gasped. To give the illusion of perfection, to hide his process and his struggle in his work, Michelangelo burned many of his sketches. He wanted people to think his talent was effortless and god-given even though it was far from it.

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Think of all that lost work. Think of everything we could have learned if he hadn’t been so concerned about the illusion of perfection.

I sat there in the middle of the exhibition and thought about how afraid we all are to show our stumbles and missteps, how we savor the performance and cringe at the endless practice it took to get there.

When I left the museum, I turned and looked back at the building in the cold, dark night. I was so glad and grateful to be able to come to this museum any time I want, to live in a city that build castles to creativity. And as I looked at the Met, I thought about how much art has changed my life. And how much effort, how much beautiful effort, it takes to be an artist of any kind.

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What if we could all commit to being a little more authentic, to sharing when we’re lost and confused and unsure of how to proceed, to asking for help? What if we could be okay with admitting failure and defeat because accepting them while not being discouraged by their existence gives us resilience and confidence? Imagine what we could learn, what we could inspire, and what we could teach others in the process. I say, yes. Let’s.

creativity

In the pause: I eavesdrop and observe for the sake of my writing

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The Astor Chinese Garden Court at the Met

To be a writer is to first be a listener and observer. I often go somewhere—a coffeeshop, a museum, a store—and just tune into the conversations of others. I don’t take out my phone or notebook. I don’t have any purpose other than to listen to what people say, how they say it, and then how people respond to them.

I tried this experiment recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I went to their Astor Chinese Garden Court and sat there for a while as people wandered in and out. It’s a bright and peaceful place in the museum. Good for clearing the mind and opening up the ears.

It was fascinating to see such a diverse set of people come into the space and have a similar experience, of peace and contentment and happiness. It reminded me how hurried and cluttered our lives can become. And it made me more conscious of the power of places that give us time to just be. The expression of “wow” on everyone’s face when they entered the garden made me smile.

As we edge toward 2018 and the cold weather takes us indoors for a few months, I’m looking forward to more of these listening and observing activities. We have so much to learn from each other.