Knowing Our Neighbors: Barbara Beeman

“I used to be a newspaper reporter for the Hudson Dispatch. I covered women’s news stories. I did one called Milk Miss Misses Bayonne. It was about a woman who left Bayonne to be a milkmaid on a farm. I also did a cover story about them putting cameras in at Jersey City State College. It was the horror of it all, you know 1984 and all that. There’s so many cameras there now – I don’t see how you’d stop it. We tried to stop them in the beginning, but it didn’t work…

“Bill and I have been playing music together since 1970. We met in the folk music club at Jersey City State College. We’re not married – we just didn’t do that. It wasn’t that important.

“Music has always been such a strong part of my life that I could never stop doing it, perhaps because I had kind of a hard job at the welfare office. I was a social worker, and then a supervisor of social work for a long time. My specialties were domestic violence, fire victims, the elderly, the homeless… It was great to be able to have this other life where you just play music and take photographs.

“I’ve been retired for 3 years now. I enjoyed it. I loved it. I like helping people.

“I still have people running up to me saying ‘Ms. Beeman, thank you so much for what you did’ and it’s really nice to hear that. It’s nice to know that you did something good. You’re never quite sure. You’re devoting all this time and effort and sometimes you can talk and talk and talk and then you find out five minutes later that they were just yessing you.

“I was happy to have so much giving inside of me, but with that I also took in a lot of anguish and pain from our clients. I used music to channel that, and put that out there in other ways. I like sad songs because there’s so much pathos and sadness. Music brightens it up and makes it sparkle.

“I have to do music. There’s no doubt about it. There’s never been a question in my mind that this is what I’ve always done and will continue to do. The songs themselves and the music itself is always new, and you always hear something different. It’s like hitting the refresh button.

“I don’t want anything taking away from my art and my music. I’m not on Facebook because our friend John went on Facebook and he was absorbed in people that he hadn’t contacted in years. I don’t want that to happen to me. I finally got a digital camera like 5 years ago. I sold my old jewelry to get a digital camera.

“I still have a darkroom but I don’t use it now. I love looking at that enlarger, but the chemicals stink.

“For years and years we were involved in the Hoboken Arts scene. At one point everyone had lofts, and they would have parties. 200 people would show up at the parties, and everyone would bring their instruments – it was wonderful. You make a lot of progress when you’re playing with other people.

“Am I a feminist? I’ve always been a feminist… But it’s hard to say that anymore. You think about it – what’s happened? I burned my bra with everyone else but you know, now I have it back on. Everything seems so light these days, the depth is missing.

“You almost need a course to teach people how to be real.

“You have to start somewhere. Explore your creative side however you can, even if you think you’re not creative. Photography is a nice way to go, and filmmaking in a way, because we all see things. Maybe you can get some feelings from the things you see – I wouldn’t recommend just putting everything down in digital form – but do it how you can do it. You’re going to have to look around and open your eyes and figure out what you have feelings about. I don’t think people know what they have feelings about anymore.


“You know, when I was in social work, we used to teach homeless teens and couch surfers to think longer than one day. We taught them that they had a future past one day, and then we taught the person that they had a future past a week, and then a month…

“Young people seem to think they have no future past 30, and that’s just not true. It helps to try to get people to plan more. For example, ‘By next year, I will have accomplished this.’ You actually have to plan – you’re going to be around. You have to get out there and find some sort of bliss or happiness.

“You have to embrace these things. You have to embrace it all. We’re coming into a time of perhaps real despair. Everything seems uncertain. There’s a new president – there’s going to be a lot of testing of what we really want in this country. There’s going to be big tests out there for all of us.”

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Mel Kozakiewicz a professor, editor, writer, and mother of two.

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