My New Office Near My Dead Relatives

I had no idea of my family history in Kingston, NY, when I moved here...

Last week I relocated Kingston Writers’ Studio, the (minuscule, one-room) co-working space I operate, to the newly (so “newly” it’s still happening) refurbished Fuller Building in midtown Kingston. (The move has momentarily hijacked this newsletter’s narrative. Next week I promise to resume unfolding the many ridiculous twists and turns along my, er, rather unconventional career path.)

There are many benefits to being in this beautifully renovated former shirt factory, including that I can walk there from my house in 10 minutes and 30 seconds and still have time to drop a letter at the post office and say hello to a friend along the way (obviously I timed it). Also, it shares a parking lot with the YMCA, which I have now joined, and where I’ve been attending weekly life drawing sessions at The Draw, when my nutty schedule allows.

(Above is my latest drawing. ^^^ I have no idea what’s going on with her nose. I don’t know how to draw them — or frankly any body parts — realistically.)

I have mixed feelings about the current revitalization of Kingston. I want to believe economic growth is possible without triggering the kind of hyper-gentrification that displaces people of color and other long-time residents at the lower end of the economic spectrum, but I’ve yet to see it happen, and the current administration and planning board seem to be following the typical script of rolling out the red carpet and bending over backward for wealthy developers who have completely disrupted the real estate market.

Still, I look forward to a day when there is enough of a distributed workforce in this small city that someone opens a real co-working space I can just join and show up to instead of running one at a loss. But in the mean time, I feel lucky to have my little dinky shared office in this gorgeous new space, which will soon have many common areas where my fellow writers and I can cross paths with other creative types.

I mostly do my day job (I’m the Essays Editor for Longreads) at Kinston Writers’ Studio, and do my personal writing at home, although I do mix it up quite a bit. Regardless of what I’m specifically writing or editing on any given day, having a place to go and work outside of my home has been key to my sanity, especially now that I no longer live in New York City, population 8 million, and instead reside in Kingston, population 24,000.

Working alone at home every single day for the first 11 of my 14 years upstate was not good for me. I stagnated, as a person, and as a writer, but I’ll tell you more about that down the line…

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Another cool thing about the new location: It’s down the block from Wiltwyck Cemetery, where — as I inadvertently discovered via Ancestry three years ago — my ancestors are buried.

Hannah Aaron Corn and Isidor Corn, my great-great-great grandparents, who are buried at Wiltwyck Cemetery, just down the block from the new location of Kingston Writers’ Studio. ^^^

We’d known that my late grandmother, Clarisse Kemp Masket, spent time “upstate” in “the country” as a child. But we didn’t know that it was specifically in Kingston.

Left, Clarisse as a 3-year-old in 1919, in what I now recognize as Kingston Point Park. Right, Clarisse with me, when I was 4, in Miami, two years before she died of breast cancer. ^^^

It turns out Clarisse’s paternal great grandparents — my great, great, great grandparents — Hannah Aaron Corn and Isidor Corn emigrated here from “Prussia” in the 1860s to escape religious persecution. They owned garment businesses, and I wonder whether their manufacturing was done in the Fuller Building. They and their extended family are buried in various plots at Wiltwyck. From what I can gather, many in the family remained here until the 1920s, when they relocated to the Bronx. I imagine, though, that some stayed behind, and I’m working on finding out whether there are descendants still living here.

My mom and I paid a visit to Hannah and Isidore Corn’s grave last fall. ^^^

When I first learned all of this from a distant cousin I’d never heard of, who’d reached out to my mother via Ancestry, Brian and I went to the cemetery to try and find the graves. We followed a map provided by the cousin, but just kept getting lost. We went around and around in circles until — as god and Brian are my witness! — a tree branch loudly cracked off and dropped right in front of my great, great, great grandparents’ grave marker.

For a person who rejects religion (as a child of clergy, it’s practically my job), I am awfully superstitious. I haven’t yet figured out the significance of my moving to Kingston before having known of my family’s history here, but I know there’s some greater meaning, and I’m going to find it, or define it for myself, in any case.

I also have a strong feeling the dead aren’t all the way gone. Part of me buys into the idea that energy can’t be destroyed, and since we’re all made of energy, when we die, we just take a different form. I have no idea how it works, but I can tell you that I often feel the dead, especially my grandmother, around me. And now, in the new space, they are literally around me. I plan to take walks there and visit them at lunch time.