As I prepare to drag myself from the Day Job campus to the Grad School campus in the midst of a Heat Wave, I’m once again questioning the wisdom of my continued residency in this monstrosity known as New York City. Granted, I live two blocks from one of the best art house cinemas in the country, within limping distance of several “vegan friendly” restaurants and am surrounded by politically like-minded people. However…as summer slides into fall with no apparent signs of abating and I continue to struggle with various strained ligaments, fused vertebrae, and a twice daily walking commute that not only destroys most footwear but also looks to be destroying my ankles, knees and peace-of-mind, I wonder just what it is that makes New York City so great? A recent long weekend (my “summer vacation”) spent in Cape May, NJ made a close friend ask me this question I often ask myself: why do I stay? As I stared out at the waves I’d just spent the day floating/swimming/being pummeled by, another glorious sunset, and the spray of leaping dolphins (yes, dolphins…), I could only say, “because I don’t know where else I could live.” It’s not just about being able to get a decent meal delivered at 4am but it’s about intellect, transport, access and an odd kind of freedom. I no longer really care about the music scene in NYC and most of the clubs in my neighborhood are closed now or too filled with kids for me to like being there. After all, I’m not in my twenties any more but that’s okay. What I mean by access & transport is this: I live near four (or more) amazing bookstores (not to mention those guys who sell good books on the tables outside the NYU library). I can walk to 3 different Farmer’s Markets. I live near two of the best libraries in the country, if not the Western world. I can see pretty much any kind of music I might want to pretty much any night of the week. I can also see the best the literary world has to offer – often for free. I can take a train and in an hour I’ll be at a beautiful beach or a really stunning hiking trail in the woods. I work with people who not only read the books most white liberals read but some of the people who wrote those books. In fact, I’m surrounded by white liberals, radical, intellectuals – most of whom are successful professors, writers, artists, or filmmakers. So why ever leave? Because I live in a 5th floor walk-up in an apartment that has no kitchen cabinets or counters. I can’t have furniture with wheels because the entire building is listing to one side. I’ve never had a yard or a garden. I’ve never owned a car and couldn’t afford to park one or put gas in it even if I did. Everything I own has to fit inside a 400 square foot space. Unless I go running (which I can’t do right now) early in the morning several blocks away from my apartment, I never see the sun rise. And I only see it set if I stand on a roof somewhere or hang out in New Jersey. I live completely surrounded by water but only get to swim when I take a train for an hour to the beach. There are 5 separate construction projects one block from my apartment that show no signs of ever ending. And then there are the white people. As a white person myself this may sound hypocritical but really, I moved to NYC for the music scene and for lack of a better word, it’s “diversity.” I grew up in a place completely surrounded by white people. Granted, every time I leave NYC I feel like I’m completely surrounded by white people (not to mention Republicans and Fundamentalist Christians) but the longer I live in my neighborhood, the more it seems to have lost any diversity it once had. But really, where would I go? None of the outer boroughs appeal and although moving back to the PNW holds its particular appeal, wouldn’t that just be a whole lot more white people? I don’t know the answer but meanwhile, it’s 90+ outside, smells like fungal rot and another semester has started where I’ll be doing my best to find ways around the white male narrative so prevalent in grad school and I’ll be trying to teach my muscles how to run and climb again but most likely I won’t be seeing any sunrises or sunsets for a good long time. Not to mention dolphins.
While seemingly most of the city is out of town on vacation, there are those of us who work in Higher Ed who are slogging away at all the myriad tasks that are required for a new college semester to get rolling. Full-time faculty are returning, as are administrative colleagues who were away on research trips. People ask me about my summer. My summer has been spent (mostly) in the city working and aside from one quick jaunt to the Adirondacks planned for Labor Day, is now over. Next week I head out to the wilds of NJ for my new Ph.D. program’s Orientation & my classes start the day after Labor Day. Meanwhile, my writing suffers. I still write a poem-a-day during the week (sometimes more) but all the stories I started this summer remain in first or second draft – some likely to remain there for months. Sitting with a long-time artist friend over tea this past weekend, I listened to her talk about a documentary film she’s starting and catching up on her various other output (hard cover book of her illustrations, an installation, etc.). On Friday, I met up with two musician friends – one of whom is playing shows as part of a music-inspired-by-books series before heading out on a UK tour. The other has started a small press and is launching her own line of soaps and perfumes while continuing to play live shows and put out a song a week. Both have full-time jobs. Then I think of all the many creative people in this town who talk more about doing creative work than actually doing the work and I find myself happy to have such accomplished friends and hope that their ongoing creative work will give me the kick in the butt I need to finish my wayward stories and send them out before the pressures of maintaining two jobs and a Ph.D. program swallows all my mental energy. There is a plethora of articles (and books) on how women write when they have kids – maybe it’s time someone wrote about how women create while working full-time, part-time and trying to survive one one income in NYC.
A friend just complained to me yesterday that this summer has been “too cold.” Living on the top floor of a walk-up in the E.V., I’m constantly dealing with temps 10-20 degrees higher than those who live closer to the street. The street itself reeks of NYC in August – that sort of baked garbage & bodily fluids stench that hangs around well into September. And my a.c. has decided to quit. And my landlord is sending exterminators through the entire building whether or not we have bed bugs(I don’t – this time) and wants our apartments “empty” except for furniture. And my apt is full to the ceiling with books – all of which I’ve been sorting through, trying to choose which to keep, sell, give to friends or donate. I’ve also discovered a box(es?) full of manuscripts I’ve abandoned over the past few years – some deserving of abandonment, some not so much. All of which has brought me once again to some basic goals – not keep so much “stuff” and to finish more writing I’ve started. I’ll probably post some excerpts here and send others out into the wide world. Oh & I have the “summer cold” that’s going around and am thinking a farm in Oregon might be a better place for me to be. Meanwhile, here’s a book of “verse” about Oregon from 1914 by Andrew Franzen: https://archive.org/stream/poemsoforegonoth00fran#page/n3/mode/2up