Dublin, New Hampshire, on the Southwestern side of the state, is an idyllic hamlet with a population estimated at 1,500 people. A refuge for individuals hoping to escape from the noise and commerce found in dense urban areas. Mount Monadnock is the geographic feature that defines Dublin, as the village falls under its shadow. Mt. Monadnock was considered sacred by Native Americans and continues to be an inspiration for artists and writers. Willa Cather, the author of, O Pioneers, Death Comes for the Archbishop and My Antonia spent many summers writing at an inn near the base of the mountain. She is buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, the community that borders Dublin. She is only one of many authors who have spent time here.
Peterborough, just nine miles down the road on Route 101 (still a two-lane road), is the town where Thornton Wilder set his Pultizer Prize-winning play, Our Town. The play was first performed at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey in January 1938 and since then has become one of the most frequently produced and most beloved plays in American theatrical history.
“Grover’s Corners, New Hamsphire” where the play is set is “– just across the New Hampshire line: latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees 37 minutes.” According to Professor Willard, one of the characters, “Grover’s Corners lies on the old Pleistocene granite of the Appalachian range. I may say it’s some of the oldest lands in the world. We’re very proud of that. A shelf of Devonian basalt crosses it with vestiges of Mesozoic shale and some sandstone outcroppings; but that’s all more recent: two hundred, three hundred million years old.” *
I spend August in Dublin, in a restored farmhouse, the original house dating back to the 1790s. Mark Twain, the beloved American author, spent the summer of 1905 here working on his autobiography. He noted that the house has one of the most peaceful views he had ever seen. The porch looks out across rolling fields, patches of wildflowers, and wooden fences. A place for reading, contemplative thought, writing, and walking.
Except for this year. It is difficult to escape from the news. Americans are reeling from all that is happening around us. The withdrawal from Afghanistan and the takeover of the country by the Taliban who are taking control of the country.
We have all been saddened by the destruction caused by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that devastated part of Haiti’s southern peninsula and the difficulty emergency authorities and aid groups have had in reaching some of the remote villages that have been affected.
Then there is the raging Delta variant that is affecting even those individuals who have been vaccinated against COVID. The Center for Disease Control has recently released new guidelines on the need for “urgently increasing COVID-19 vaccination coverage and a recommendation for everyone in areas of substantial or high transmission to wear a mask in public indoor places, even if they are fully vaccinated. CDC issued this new guidance due to several concerning developments and newly emerging data signals. Second, new data began to emerge that the Delta variant was more infectious and was leading to increased transmissibility when compared to other variants, even in vaccinated individuals”.
While I am not one who watches television series, a writer friend encouraged me to watch an episode or two of the Canadian television sitcom Schitt’s Creek which streams on Netflix. The series ran for six years (January 2015, to April 2020) with over eighty episodes. Millions have watched the program making it one of Nielsen’s lists of top ten most-watched series. The episodes chronicle the life of a successful, entrepreneurial family, essentially a reality television family, who has experienced financial ruin and is forced to move into connecting motel rooms in a small rural community. The kind of motels that were popular in the ’50s with perhaps twelve units, one connected to the next. All, the father, narcissistic mother, and their two spoiled children, a son, and a daughter, are left with is their inappropriate designer clothing.
The original idea for the narrative came from Dan Levy, who created the series with his father, Eugene Levy. Both have prominent roles in Schitt’s Creek, with Eugene playing the father, Johnny Rose, and Dan playing the gay, neurotic son, David. The episodes are funny and satirical each with a dramatic twist of one sort or another.
There are moments when you find tears running down your cheeks from laughing and other moments when your eyes fill with tears because of the humanity, empathy, and insights into how the Rose family is adapting to their new lives. How the community is responding to them as the years and the episodes move along and the family begins to recognize how vacuous and meaningless their lives have been. They begin to bask in the friendship, love, and forgiveness that have been extended to them in Schitt’s Creek. David, in the last episode, makes the decision to stay and make the small town his home.
I have been reading Our Town and thinking about Schitt’s Creek as earlier this spring Congressman Ted W. Lieu from California’s and Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández from New Mexico introduced legislation that would create a 21st Century Federal Writers’ Project, inspired by the New Deal initiative of decades ago. The new program would allow the U. S. Department of Labor to distribute grants to academic institutions, nonprofit literary organizations, newsrooms, and libraries and to hire unemployed and under-employed to write and chronicle American towns, cities, and the countryside. To observe and reflect on the shape of American life.
Credit for the inspiration behind the idea is given to David Kipen, who served as the National Education Association’s director of literature under both Democratic and Republican administrations and now teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles. In interviews and in editorials he comments that the idea came to him during the pandemic when many of his friends were losing their jobs.
The original Federal Writers’ Project, created in 1935, was part of the United States Work Progress Administration (WPA) launched as part of the New Deal and designed to provide employment for historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers who were unemployed during the Great Depression. While the original purpose of the project was to publish a series of American guidebooks the Federal Writers Project published hundreds of guides, local histories, and children’s books.
There are three acts in Our Town. In the last act one of the characters, Emily, who has died, asks to return for a day to observe what is happening. An ordinary day. She is warned against this idea as “you (will) see the future.” She does return and longs to have the day end.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?”
A man from among the dead:
And my boy, Joel, who knew the stars – he used to say it took millions of years for that speck o’ light to get to the earth. Don’t seem like a body could believe it, but that’s what he used to say – millions of years.
“They don’t understand, do they?” *
It has been a difficult time for all of us on this planet. Perhaps through what we are learning through this period of transformation we will understand the changes that must be initiated so it won’t take millions of years for human beings to understand life while they live it.
(* Our Town by Thornton Wilder, Harper Perennial Classics, reissued 2003)