A New York State of Mind

Tomorrow I head into the city and I am SO EXCITED. I love that place, it’s a deep home for me; when I first went there I felt the peace of home and knew that it would always be mine, no matter what. The noise doesn’t bother me (except once in a while when it does, and that’s usually when a car parks in front of our building and blasts the stereo, especially the bass, for an hour), the crowds never bother me, the pace is too slow if anything, and the grit and dirt just feel like they’re of a piece. It’s my home too, in addition to Heaventree. And I’m also relieved that going from one home to the other can be done in a short car trip instead of a long flight. I don’t have to take off my shoes, endure the elbows of some stranger who has no concept of space, overeat out of some misguided notion that it’s a “treat” because I’m “at the airport,” and spend all that time and money in transit.

Riverside Park, MY park. You can have Central, I’ll take Riverside

Walks in Riverside Park. The Saturday night concert at the tennis courts along the Hudson River. The Hudson River! Sunsets, which I can’t see here at Heaventree. Concrete all around, I actually love that. The subway rumbling under my feet. We have a lot to get done while I’m there, including visits to a couple of furniture stores and a trip to Ikea in NJ, and lunch in Chinatown on Saturday, and dinner with my stepdaughter Anna on Sunday, and I’ll head back to Heaventree Monday morning. A whirlwind trip for sure, but it’s a sign of something that I’m ready to get back in the car and drive again — a sign that I need civilization, maybe; a sign that I really miss the things I can so easily find there; a sign that the city girl in me is still alive and kicking, as I knew she was.

Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood. Hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood. I’m taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line….I’m in a New York state of mind. Makes me cry just writing those words. How I love that vibrant, beautiful city.

The view always helps, whether it’s sunny (yes, this is what it looks like when it’s sunny) or rainy (the only difference is that the deck is wet ūüėČ ).

A quick journal log here on my mindfulness project — not so mindful, yet, but making it to the yoga mat every single day, which is a relief. Some days it’s a relief because I didn’t let myself down, but other days it’s a deeper relief, a physical and emotional relief. My body feels better, more alive than it did. It’s still much too difficult, I’m still struggling to get back into the poses with any grace, and I’m still too quickly out of breath, but those things will change as long as I keep showing up. For 10 straight days I have unrolled my mat, I have met myself there and for 10 straight days as I lay in savasana at the end of the class I have felt deeply grateful for it. Centered within myself again, at least for that while.

For 10 straight days, when I finish a yoga class and the teacher offers his¬†namaste and I return it, I touch my hands to my forehead, mouth, and chest and offer kindness in my thoughts, words, and heart, and then I lean over and offer kindness to the earth. I wish I could carry those hopes and wishes farther out into the world, and I wish they weren’t so easily whisked away by my violent response to the news, but I’ll keep at it.

For 10 straight days I’ve also eaten well, eaten the way I’ve been wanting to eat. Somehow I’ve started thinking of my vegetarian diet as eating ‘living’ food — eating meat feels like eating dead food — and every morning my green smoothie goes right into my bloodstream, out into my cells, filling me with energy. Gosh I love that way to start the day. My late-afternoon meal is a pleasure, though I’ve had a relentless headache the last three days (it has felt like my brain is swollen and pushing against my skull, ugh) so cooking hasn’t been as pleasurable as it usually is but the food has been wonderful.

It’s good to be heading into the city; I have hermit tendencies, and the longer I stay in my house the harder it is to leave. Yesterday I drove to Margaretville, which is ~20, 25 minutes west of my home, to get my NY license stuff done. It almost felt scary to do that, to go to that new place, to interact with strangers. I remember feeling that way in Austin too, and I think it’s not just agoraphobia/hermit tendencies, it’s also the way I am with new places. I want to just dip my toe in and run home, and the next time keep my toe in a little longer, and then a little longer. I’m not like that in a pool — I just wade in all the way and get used to it all at once — but with new places I’m pretty timid. I’m that way when we travel too, and I’m always grateful that Marc is a dive-in person (even though he is timid in the pool, so funny the way we are crossed, like that).

So over the weekend, while I’m away from my beautiful Heaventree, I’ll be around on FB and IG. I’m working a poem that started bubbling up inside me yesterday, which is a strange and new experience for me so I’ll keep at that. And looking ahead, for the month of August I’m going to try to participate in Susannah Conway’s August Break photography project, so I hope that will give me a way to focus my attention very quietly once a day. Here are the prompts, in case you want to dip in once in a while:

The horrific Republican world we’re trapped in is so noisy and chaotic and destructive, and I’m needing all the quiet ways to focus and be present that I can find. I’m really grateful for you. I’m grateful you’re there, whether you comment or not, whether you let me know you’re reading or you don’t. I kind of feel like you’re in this thing with me, and that makes me feel so much less alone. xoxoxoxoxox

coda

Yesterday when I was walking to meet my beautiful friend Traci for lunch, I was absorbed by my surroundings, as I usually am here. So much to look at, down every block, UP (never forget to look up when you’re here!), what I’m passing, the people coming toward me. I was thinking about Traci, thinking about what we’d talk about, thinking about what I wanted to ask her, when I walked over a grating in the sidewalk. They’re ubiquitous, you just kind of forget to even notice them. But as I walked over it, a train was passing through the tunnel underneath my feet and I got a very different awareness, of the living pulse of New York.

livePeople who want to talk about New York often reference the speed of things here, how fast everything moves. To be honest, I find the sidewalk pace way too slow for my sanity. People in their own neighborhoods are out for strolls, to talk with each other, and they’re poking along. Tourists poke along, perhaps because it’s their speed or perhaps because they’re a little overwhelmed. And then clots of people slow things down. So the whole speed thing has always seemed funny to me.

For me, the thing to talk about with New York is how¬†alive it is. Not only are there pulsing crowds of people from all over the world, literally, and various scenes — the publishing scene, the Wall Street crowd, the music scene, the art scene, the social set scene, the rich-and-famous scene, blah blah blah — but it’s always moving. (Although when I came here the first time, when I was in graduate school, my flight had landed quite late and I was hungry and just wanted a bagel. I walked down the block from my hotel and the bagel joint was closed. I remember thinking¬†What? Isn’t this the city that never sleeps?!¬†It definitely does sleep, it just goes to bed late.) The thing the subway underneath my feet reminded me is that there’s a whole entire world under the streets, at all times. Trains moving up and down the island, out into the boroughs, diagonally in the lower part, crossways between Times Square and Grand Central Station. And all the people who work down there, and the people just wanting to get home, or to work, or to shop, or whatever they’re doing. That’s going on 24 hours/day, all that life underground.

chryslerIt’s so easy to forget to look up, but you have to! You’ll miss dazzling architectural details, gargoyles, oddities. The Chrysler Building looks like nothing at street level, true of most of the beautiful buildings. You have to look up. And when you do, you realize that people live and work on all those floors up above, some you can barely see, they’re so high. Tall buildings filled with apartments, hundreds and hundreds of people stored inside, living individual lives, living out the things we all do — eating, fighting, watching tv, playing online, talking to someone else, sleeping — all around. Up, down, and around.

In my old neighborhood, we sometimes hear the train heading north; it goes underground along the Hudson near my place, on its way upstate or to Connecticut. That beautiful lonely sound of a train, and that’s going on too, right over there, underground.

aliveThe place teems. I think that word was surely created for New York City. It’s teeming all the time, down below, up above, and all around. It IS alive. And I love that, I truly do. You get used to the noise, but that doesn’t mean it’s always OK. For instance, last night I slept a total of 2 hours, in several 20-minute segments, so I’m thoroughly exhausted today and just not in the mood. But on the street right outside the window (on the street level) there are jackhammers and drills and hammers going nonstop on metal; in the courtyard there is the same. There are workmen shouting at each other, and they’re also going up and down the face of the building and also on the building across the street. Trucks are moving in reverse so there’s nonstop beeping (how long can they possibly drive in reverse! SERIOUSLY.).

Happy Friday, y’all. I hope it’s a beautiful day for you, and I hope you have good weekend plans. I do! Sherlock and Peggy are driving down tomorrow for brunch with me, lucky lucky me. xo

charm

charmEven in my depression — perhaps because it’s mild-ish — I am not immune to the various charms of New York City. And perhaps my lack of immunity stems from the fact that I live in Austin. I remember being frequently exhausted by and pissed off at New York when I lived here, so knowing both places allows me to relish their different charms. I always want to share the wonderful things about both places so my friends in both places get to know each place, because both are important to me, part of me. So, to wit:

New York: Walking, oh the walking. Sure, you could go down the stairs into the stinky subway, stand on the crowded platform, get in the even more crowded train (sometimes boiling hot, sometimes freezing, sometimes reeking of the homeless guy or vomit or unexplainable liquids), and traverse the city with relative ease. The price of a trip has gone up, but it’s relatively cheap and easy, especially after you learn the different lines. ¬†Sometimes you have to do that. But when you can, it’s a walker’s paradise. Sunday night I walked from the area around Columbia University all the way down to Chelsea, about 1.5 hours, more or less, 88 blocks. I walked past ¬†Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, Times Square (ugh), Madison Square Garden, and into Chelsea. There was always something to see, and I rarely had to stop except for the crowds in Times Square. I could’ve walked along Central Park West for a good portion, another fine walk. Last night I walked home from Columbus Circle, 55 blocks. Every day I take at least one walk in gorgeous Riverside Park, usually 2-3 miles. You can’t help but walk in New York, even if you take a subway. There are great places to walk in Austin — your own neighborhood, the hike and bike trail, various greenbelts, but mostly you have to drive to them (and often it’s sweltering). It’s an effort.¬†The NYC down side: You have to do this no matter the weather. In the summer the place reeks of pee and trash and homeless people, the subway platforms are dank and hot, and you still have blocks to walk to your destination when you leave the subway. The streets and buildings hold and radiate the heat. In the winter, you do this in ice and snow and bleak and whistling crosstown winds. Brrr.

the fruit and vegetable stand on my corner, one of several in a couple-block radius
the fruit and vegetable stand on my corner, one of several in a couple-block radius

Shopping: Of course you can get anything here. There are¬†districts¬†for things. Need a button? Go to the BUTTON DISTRICT. Yes, there is a button district. Want some fabric, some flowers, some meat, whatever? There is a district just for that thing. Want to do the most fancy shopping? Fifth Avenue, there you go. But even better, oh so much better, the daily shopping is just wonderful. Walking down Broadway you’ll pass table after table stacked high with used books. And usually small tables in between with people playing chess. Or table after table of handmade jewelry. Small stands selling clothing, hats, stockings, hats, scarves. In the winter they shift to warm gloves and scarves and hats. When it’s rainy, out come the umbrellas. One stand after another. Just need a fresh avocado, some bananas, lettuce, potatoes, cherries, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, anything? Walk over to the corner, this one or that one, competing fruit and vegetable stands. Pick your produce, the guy weighs it, you give him cash, he puts it in a little bag, and you walk home. Done. If you need regular groceries, walk to the other corner to the market. Sometimes you go to big markets, like Westside or Fairway or Trader Joe’s, giant places with everything. And “everything” (especially at Fairway) means¬†everything, every kind of ethnic ingredient or food you could want. ¬†Or, of course, you could go to Chinatown, or little India, or any of the multitude of ethnic neighborhoods for anything under the sun.¬†The NYC downside:¬†Sometimes you just need a mall! You don’t know what kind of outfit you want but you’ll know it when you see it, so you wander the mall and go in and out of all the stores until you find it. Here you have to walk around in the weather, and maybe you’ll find it in the shops in one neighborhood but maybe you’ll have to keep moving to other neighborhoods.

a range of very good Mexican food trucks!
a range of very good Mexican food trucks!

Eating. Anything. ‘Nuff said. The most amazing restaurants in the world, neighborhood restaurants, any kind of ethnic food you might ever want (except Tex-Mex! Come up here, Chuy’s!). Flor de Mayo, a Cuban/Chinese restaurant, all kinds of fusions, little holes in the wall, neighborhood stalwarts. Just within a couple of blocks of my apartment there are a few Ethiopian restaurants, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Turkish, diners, Japanese, fried chicken, Lebanese, Cuban, Mexican (interior!), health food, those just off the top of my head. Within a couple-of-blocks radius, and my street butts up against Riverside Park so it’s not even a full circle. And then there are the little trucks; I prefer to get my Lebanese food from the truck on the corner than the restaurant. My old neighborhood Greek restaurant is pretty shady (we prefer to go to one in Astoria Queens), but Marc has been going to it since he went to Sarah Lawrence in the very early 1970s.¬†The downside:¬†Can’t think of one.

People. People in New York are generally warm and friendly — it just might not look, on the surface, like it looks in other places. But if you’re on the street and lost, you can ask anyone and they’ll direct you. If you’re on the train, you can just ask generally and all kinds of people will chime in and give you great directions. Sometimes the New Yorkers will start debating various options to give you the best advice. Once, before I moved here, I was on a train and lost, and a woman overheard me. She got off the train with me, walked me to the right place, and told me where to go. Then she went back to her own train, I guess. Yesterday Marc and I were walking in Riverside Park and I saw a key hanging by a ribbon from a fence; we guessed that someone must have dropped their key, someone else found it, and hung it on the fence post in case the owner came back looking for it, so they’d spot it easily. It touched me a lot. We all live in each other’s faces, in a way, and while we know how to erect a bubble around ourselves when we need to, we’re all kind of the same in some way. Women put on their make-up in the mornings on the train. In late winter, people sleep, heads back and mouths open, in their now-tired winter clothes, and it’s so easy to see the children they used to be. People talk and laugh, sing, sometimes cry, they read, they close their eyes, they look exhausted or happy or bored. I really love that.¬†The NYC downside:¬†Sorry, but New Yorkers are pretty parochial. Texans, you’ll get this: they think the world drops off at the Manhattan borders, and no place else matters. (I know. Texans think the same thing.) I actually love that about both groups, but Texans are more often open to New York than New Yorkers are open to Texas. In both places, when I mention the other place the response is “you must be glad to be out of there,” but in Texas they first say, “Welcome back!” ¬†But I love you both, and find people in both places to be real and warm and open and longing to connect.

711Everything else.¬†You have to learn how to tune your eyes, but it’s all there. That 7-11 is just part of the block, as are McDonald’s and Burger Kings and Dunkin Donuts, but they’re very easy to miss because the place is big and tall and dazzling. There are SO many churches here — synagogues and dazzlingly huge Catholic churches and Baptist churches and Korean Baptist churches and Methodist churches and Lutheran churches and mosques. It’s all here, but they’re kind of blended into the surroundings until you learn how to see them.

johnAnd in my very near old ¬†neighborhood is the glory of St John the Divine, a glorious Gothic cathedral. For a couple of years I went to the Winter Solstice concert that I’d listened to for years on NPR — a thrill to be in the audience — and one year I went to the Summer Solstice concert. One year I went to Christmas Eve services to hear the choir. The gardens around it are amazing, as are the various sculptures. I’ll take pictures sometime.

The deal is that everything is here, but you have to learn how to see it. It’s much easier to see in Austin, spread out as it is.

This morning I’m heading over to the Museum of Natural History to see the sperm whale/Moby Dick exhibit, and I cannot wait. Pictures to follow! I write this post so my Austin friends will learn why I love New York City so much (and know that many of you love it too, and may even come here when I’m here, which would be amazing!), just as I write about Austin so my New York friends learn about it (though they are almost all unwilling to venture into Texas, even to see me, which frankly annoys me a lot).

Happy Wednesday, everyone. I love you all. xo

belonging

where do I belong?
where do I belong?

Belonging is a tough subject for me, one of my quintessential variables. Definitional, even, my old feeling of not belonging. One very good thing that’s happened for me over the last several months is a settling-in to belonging to myself, to having a home within myself. And that’s so very good. I’ve been kind of clinging to that knowledge the last 24 hours.

I love New York City. I love it so much. I love Texas, by which I primarily mean Austin. Love it so much too. I’ve semi-belonged to both places. I’ve lived in a lot of places — CT, VA, AL, AR, NJ — but the only places I have ‘belonged’ have been Austin and New York City. But age and experience have put me in a funny place with both of them. When I went to Katie’s last October for the horrible agony of Gracie’s death and funeral, I realized with a shock that I could never live in Texas again. It felt too far away from my sensibility, too small (oy, don’t tell a Texan that Texas is too small!), I needed a place like New York City. And then, of course, immediately upon my return to NYC there was the ending of my marriage and all I could do was return to Austin. The place I’d just realized I could never live again. (Lesson: Never say you can never do something, for that’s the next thing you’ll be called on to do.)

So there I’ve been, in Austin, and struggling with adjusting my eyes. Struggling to get a different focus so I could simply see and relish the joys and charms of that place instead of only seeing it as not-NYC. And it has been hard, I must say. I have my home, which feels safe and beautiful and I love it, and I have Katie and Trey and their home, and so many beautiful friends, but oh how I have just longed for NYC. Last weekend in Chicago I felt drunk on the giddy pleasures of being back in a big city.

And now here I am, in my other-beloved. New York City. And it is beautiful, and it is busy, and it is everything. And I do not belong here so easily, now. People are rude, they crash into you and elbow you and don’t really give a shit. New York City: the city of the honey badger. They’re not really being rude, it’s just what it is to be here. It’s my city, but it’s not my home any more. I don’t really belong. But I don’t really belong in Texas, either. I am in the limbo zone, wanting and not wanting both places, and realizing that some theoretical in-between doesn’t exist.

pinballI’ve spent much of the day wandering around, shopping, getting stuff done, readjusting to the noise (so noisy!), trying to avoid being crashed into by everyone, feeling like a ball in a pinball machine. Reminding myself to breathe deeply, slowly, reminding myself of my center in my home, my place within myself, reminding myself that wherever I am, I am home. That I belong to myself and that’s important belonging. And, of course, I am just a few months into this transition, and so patience is required. Patience and experience, and then some more patience. That helps, has been helping me.

Tonight, off to eat at Awash, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, for some special raw kitfo, some charcoal tibs, some whole bunch of vegetables and lentils, some spongy injera, the pleasure of excellent and familiar food, a familiar walk in my old neighborhood.

And¬†that¬†reminds me of my favorite Adrienne Rich poem, “Shooting Script:”

Whatever it was, the image that stopped you, the one on which you
came to grief, projecting it over & over on empty walls.

Now to give up the temptations of the projector; to see instead the
web of cracks filtering across the plaster.

To read there the map of the future, the roads radiating from the
initial split, the filaments thrown out from that impasse.

To reread the instructions on your palm; to find there how the
lifeline, broken, keeps its direction.

To read the etched rays of the bullet-hole left years ago in the
glass; to know in every distortion of the light what fracture is.

To put the prism in your pocket, the thin glass lens, the map
of the inner city, the little book with gridded pages.

To pull yourself up by your own roots; to eat the last meal in
your old neighborhood.