I took this picture in the reading room of the Morgan Library in New York City. I long to go back. Opulent. Peaceful. Rich colors and a collection of the most wondrous reading and materials in the world.
I took this picture in the reading room of the Morgan Library in New York City. I long to go back. Opulent. Peaceful. Rich colors and a collection of the most wondrous reading and materials in the world.
I miss New York like crazy.
With the recent change of jobs and, well, being “in-between” opportunities right now, I’m kind of free to move wherever I want.
I say “kind of” because I’m not rich (yet!?). It’s not easy to just get up and move back to New York from California to search for work back home – where things are expensive. But I’m making some plans and getting my home inventory together for selling off my life to do it.
But here’s the thing. My hound Baxter is coming with me, and it’s going to be quite a journey for the little guy.
He’s a California hound.
He knows of green grass and warm to cool temperatures.
He knows nothing of snow.
He’s okay with rain.
I’ve not a clue what he’ll do with ice.
Maybe he’ll eat it? Maybe he’ll grow found of the taste of snow?
He’ll have to learn to poop on concrete if we can’t make it to the grass fast enough.
He’ll have lots of smells because New York is a cesspool of smells.
He’ll find new friends that will make his wag his tail.
And maybe I’ll find things to make my tail wag, too.
Unless a job comes up in Los Angeles. If one does get offered to me, then I guess if it’s a great one – I’ll stay a little longer.
But I’ll still miss New York, and I’ll long to see my hound romp in the snow for the first time.
What place on earth really creeps you out? Is it a building somewhere in your hometown? Is it a ruin you walked through years ago while on vacation that felt heavy with history and past demons?
Why not write about it? I did. Here it goes:
For me, it’s Roosevelt Island. The cigar shaped strip of land along the east river that straddles the upper east side of Manhattan and Queens. Fully inhabited, it’s a living, breathing little sleepy nook of NYC, carved off from the mainland.
Back in the black and white dusty days of old timey NYC, it was used to quarantine the contagious from the main land. A small pox hospital (now crumbling and empty) existed. And the Octogon Building, now a luxury condo complex, was the sight of a former insane asylum.
Yup! This place is really cool. And weird. And creepy despite it being inhabited and beloved (or despised, depending on who you talk to) by those who live there.
This long, two mile strip of land wasn’t wasted or left to the elements like the REALLY REALLY creepy North and South Brother Islands – two abandoned small land masses off the coast of The Bronx steeped in sad, depressing history. (More to come in my next post). Roosevelt was developed into a residential, park-like community with no nightlife, a few grocery stores and restaurants. It still houses a working, educational hospital; yet, people come here to buy high end condos and live a peaceful life away from the bustle across the river.
There is only a Main Street cutting through the island, with an east and west drive. You can get to Roosevelt Island by Tram or by the F train. Cars are not plentiful, so there’s no traffic. The tram ride there is gorgeous, and the biking on the island is nice and easy due to cars being somewhat scarce.
For me, it’s incredibly creepy. Eerie. Strange. Like a New York City parallel universe where you’ve been drugged and thrown in a van only to wake up in the middle of the in-between. Someone online mentioned that it reminded them of the old video game ‘Myst’ – where you’ve been ship wrecked on an island that looks familiar, but it’s vacant and strange and surreal.
They even made a thriller with Jennifer Connolly called ‘Dark Water’ on the premises, using its isolated, dystopic, empty strangeness as part of the atmosphere.
So bizarre is this strip of island – that only this week during New York’s Fashion Week, Kanye West, now a fashion maven, staged a fashion show to reveal his latest line of shoe wear. Girls clad in nothing but underwear and body stockings stood along the grassy area of the park, staged as living dolls around the makeshift runways. They stood there, like brooding statues in the heat, to which they succumbed, one by one in fainting spells. Meanwhile, animated models strutted and stumbled over shoes that fell apart on the catwalk.
As each model wobbled and held on to audience members for dear life, the ruins of the small pox hospital loomed in the distance.
A modern day disaster contrasting an older one. A strange land perfect for such a strange performance.
Perfect for a weird place like Roosevelt Island.
Yet, the skyline views were, and are always — spectacular.
I was sitting on a plane from New York JFK to Los Angeles a few weeks ago. We were at the gate, and passengers were still boarding. There was a slight stand still in the line while people waited for those ahead of them to stow away their bags. A woman who was in waiting mode, said to the flight attendant, “Ahh, it will be good to be back in civilization again!”. The flight attendant said, “Why, do you not like New York?” The lady said, “I’m a recovering New Yorker. It’s crazy here. Just too much chaos.” The flight attendant concurred, “Well, I guess I know what you mean. I almost got run over by a truck on 5th avenue the other day.”
Funny that chaos and potential street accidents were brought up about New York. My dog and I were almost run down crossing (with a pedestrian sign giving the okay) on 3rd street in LA a few months ago. And I have a list of of incidents like this since moving to the land of La La.
What makes a city “civilized”? When someone says they want to go back to “civilization”, you figure this person just spent a solitary holiday on a beach resort or floating on a cruise to Bermuda.
When I think of New York City, I think of it as the epitome of civilization. LA – the same but with better weather.
Civilization and being civilized human beings are two different things. We human beings make civilization civilized. Civilization was created in the minds and hearts of ancient humanity to create infrastructure and laws. Being civilized is living up to the standard within those lines.
Civilization should also contain individuals who contribute kindness, consideration and aid to others. Humanity.
As Nora Ephron wrote above, when you leave New York, things change. The city is now harsh. You are an outsider who has to pay your way in. When you are a resident of New York, you don’t mind the crowds because that’s what you signed up for. You have the best restaurants on your speed dial. You know when to brace yourself on the 6 train when the hard turn after 42nd street pitches the subway into a hard jolt. You know what time taxis go on their break (5:00pm), and where they come into the city (east 59th street).
And you know – New York isn’t an easy place. Look deeper into Los Angeles, and you’ll find it just as difficult, except the sun always shines, drivers don’t use their turn signals, don’t stop at stop signs and don’t understand the right of way.
When I was sitting in that Jet Blue seat getting ready to head back to Los Angeles, I felt as thought I was leaving civilization to return to another one. But this time, unlike the “Recovering New Yorker”, I was willing to fall off the wagon and stay.
David Bowie once said that the best place for a creative person to be is in the in-between. Floating between safety and peril, that lovely bouncing sense of nothing where your heart is in your throat, but your eyes are firmly set on the horizon. When you walk out in to the water’s edge until your feet barely touch the ground. That’s the perfect place to be.
Sometimes being creative means to be brave. Being creative can mean producing word, art and performance. But it can also mean delving into a new depth of life. It can be about not letting fear get in your way. Bravery is breaking through convention and routine to build a scary road toward a life where you’re honoring your gift.
The best place to be is in the scary. Writing is scary. Creating a life you want rather the one you settle for conjures fear.
Isn’t it nice to know you can embrace fear?
Just embrace it. Let your failures be proof that you tried. Then get up and do it again.
And if you look around at your chaotic life where everything seems to be going wrong, don’t dwell on why. Understand how it happened. How the choices you made brought you here. Don’t dwell. Hash out the plans to get you out of it.
Remember, “The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not. You have to move on.”
Much like the glorious work of Rebecca Rebouche, whose delicate, surreal artwork (whose work you can find here), lends so much toward writing inspiration. Her work allows you to move away from the river’s edge until you feel the scary in-between.
Last week, I sold a beloved nine drawer Spanish dresser my parents bought for me as part of a matching bedroom set for the new house they moved into while I was in college. It was for my room, the one I’d stay in while visiting, or as life would have it, lived in periodically throughout those years.
The dresser was hand carved, heavy oak wood, beautifully polished into a lustrous golden smooth shine. The knobs on each drawer were dark iron metal, fastened to square bevels carved into the front panels. The square motifs continued down the sides of the piece. It was the center piece of an ensemble: End tables, bed head board and an additional little side bureau that completed the delicate rustic uniform that contained the same bejeweled hand carve squares.
The thing about the lovely dresser is that it always remained at my parents home, even after I moved out. Living in NYC, my early days proved difficult in terms of finding a large enough apartment to accommodate furniture of this size to my new dwelling. In fact, earning enough to have a larger space and bringing all this furniture with me, to use (you know, like a civilized person, where you have drawers to keep your clothes rather than pile them up in a deep shelf in the one and only closet you have in your loft studio apartment) was to be an achievement worth striving for.
When I was able to afford a one bedroom, my father felt a sense of pride and accomplishment when I was able to bring my pretty bedroom furniture and that big dresser to my new place. It was as if I arrived. I grew up.
Then, something happened. My folks passed away and I saw how all their own heavy furniture was a burden I had to dispose of. How they cherished these things I could not use and were in need of being sold off, auctioned off, or sadly – left on the curb.
And I realized, as I moved from place to place, how cumbersome this giant dresser was to transport. It cost so much to move. There were hallways too narrow and ceilings too low to lift it and bring it into certain rooms. When I moved to LA, this dresser – all 200 pounds of it – made relocation costs more expensive than I anticipated. It rolled across the country, waiting to meet me on the other side, ready with new intention and experiences, only to find it wouldn’t fit in the bedroom of my small one bedroom LA apartment. So, it lived in the living room until I moved into a larger LA deco apartment, where I currently live. It looked perfect, beautiful in this LA pad, perfect for the sunny weather and spanish feel of Los Angeles style. I’ve been in the LA area 5 1/2 years, and the dresser settled in.
Yet, here’s the rub.
I want to go home.
I want to move back to NYC soon. No real date, but soon. A goal post – by this autumn.
This dresser can’t come back with me. It’s too heavy. It’s too expensive to relocate with (as history has shown me) and I want to travel light, as unencumbered as possible without giving it all away.
So, I sold it last week. I let it go. Thirty years of memories, of homes and family experiences kissed goodbye and hopefully blessed over to the next owners.
I don’t feel lighter. I have boxes and boxes temporarily filled with what used to be the contents of those drawers.
Donate. Throw out. Keep. All categorized, yet I can’t think straight with each toss of an old tee-shirt.
The space looks like I’m in mid-packing mode, yet I haven’t locked down the destination of this end chapter of the journey.
After the delivery guys came to pick up the dresser – that night, I woke up from sleep (as I usually do) and laid awake until I could drift back to dreamland. In the middle of meditative state and twilight, I thought I heard my father’s voice call my name through the din and electrical current of some cosmic frequency.
In my mind I could only tell him I love him, and that it was time to come back home, to the city that was the main pulse of the region where I was born, back to the familiar, back to east coast time, back to what I know. Not to move backwards, but to move forward with a new perspective back home.
And I’ll return with a little less baggage.
When you look at the photo of the Morgan Library ceiling above, what do you see? Do your eyes gaze at the intricate pattern, delicate in its grace? Do you notice the daylight filtering through the iron carved repetitive spirals and curls contained in stoic squares? Do you feel the moodiness of the black and white? Does it take a moment for your brain to see that within the swoops and curves, are little birds adding texture to the visual?
Do you approach your writing this way? We envision a huge idea for a writing project, but the details get obscured by the bigger picture and patterns, distracting us from the true story at hand. Sometimes that bigger picture hinders the process by bringing up fear and concern over how a story is going, or how words will come to mold and define an ending that will tie up the lose ends perfectly.
I’m very much like you, my lovely stuck, blocked, confused, successful writer. I get overwhelmed by the big picture and can’t see the hidden treasure behind the pretty patterns I’m creating. Then the second guessing and doubt comes in. I grind to a halt. I lose my way. Then I turn off the computer.
Then I turn on the computer and start again.
Life also kicks up lots of dust, to the point where we don’t see the details or the meaning of why things happen. Sometimes we lose our way because we get distracted by shiny things, like a new job that pays more but provides the same drudgery as the job you want to leave. Or a dress or coat that looks stunning on a size 4 model in an Anthropologie catalog, only to find out it looks like crap when you actually try it on. How about having a crush on a gorgeous person, only to find they have the intelligence of a door knob?
Objects may appear closer then they seem. They can be illusions, until you break them down and create a defined personal portrait to work from. Try character outlines.
Outlining the details of your characters can help the stuck writer not see “the forest for the trees”. Not just in the beat of your story, but in character development. Think of your character and their details. Bring it straight down to the length of their fingernails, beyond the color of their hair, eyes, complexion.
You don’t have to express these particular details within your work, but having this outline on hand can provide a palate from where you can swipe aspects of color and transfer brushstrokes onto your canvas to make characters consistent and vibrant.
Even if you’re writing a memoir or biography, keep that character outline of yourself and of others handy so you can express your personality through the work. Sometimes we don’t see our own ticks and individuality, especially not in the way others do. It’s nice to have a reminder – yes, even of yourself.
Keep writing. Give us more to read, to dream and to aspire to. Don’t let bright shiny distractions make you loose sight of the details that weave the entire story and don’t let it make you stray from the work at hand.
Stay focused on what your heart wants to express. Find the flow, and then ride the wave.
(By the way, “The Forest for the Trees” is the title of a wonderful book for writers written by Betsy Lerner.)
I’m still reeling from the loss of David Bowie. The past week and a half has been spent re-listening to albums I’ve put aside, or cranking up my personal Bowie playlist lined up with my favorite songs – ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Starman’, ‘Moonage Daydream’…so many on the queue.
I came across a paparazzi photo taken within the past year or two of David Bowie hailing a cab on the streets of New York. Decked out in jeans, sweater, scarf, sunglasses and hat, he looked like any New Yorker hailing a cab. He blended in. He was anonymous in this vast island of tall buildings that sprout like canyons among the noise of traffic and ongoing construction. I miss New York terribly, but what makes it even harder is knowing that Bowie was part of the fabric of something I left five years ago and long to return to.
When you live in New York, you know that someone famous could live right across the street from you, down the road, over on the next avenue. They are living there – somewhere behind the thick concrete and brick walls that hide multitudes of small apartments, crammed with people – or large enough to house the most wealthy.
You never think about who is famous nearby. There isn’t a GPS or an app to tell you. Even if there was, it doesn’t matter. The famous blend in with the grey and dark streets. The unexplained, spiritual energy of New York does something to disperse someone’s presence. You have to look thrice to notice someone. Probably because no one looks anyone in the eye – it’s easy for anyone – even the famous -to slip away when the city filled with eyes never meet the eyes of others.
But please know that in saying this – I’m speaking for my own perception. The idea of New York is subjective. The idea of New York is misunderstood. It’s a vision by own making. It’s a concept many love, hate or envy. It’s a concept of dreams and nightmares. Everyday hustle and romantic skyline vistas outside the window of a skyscraper at night.
In New York, there’s a need to flow with the slipstream of everyday humanity so one doesn’t drown in the crowded subway cars or tire of the energy, the vibration of human life staring you in the face as soon as you leave your building.
In order to survive, you stay within an invisible cocoon. You remain within your own mind space. You don’t let anyone in unless someone needs help. You don’t give yourself away lest you lose your self to the constant barrage of sound and visual stimulation.
In New York, you understand it when someone needs to be alone, especially those iconic faces that have been taken in by millions upon millions of eyes.
We place our idols – especially those who mold themselves into godly forms on stage – on such high pedestals. They seem otherworldly – especially Bowie. But he was a guy who did extraordinary things. Like any devoted writer, singer and performer, Bowie had a line to a cosmic source. He used it to bring down an element of creation.
Yet, in the end…he was a husband, father, an artist and a New Yorker.
I’m writing now in order to capture a moment I’m currently experiencing.
The office days are dwindling down in my place of business. Two glorious weeks off as we scramble these last two days to get things done, send out client Christmas cards, give and receive little prezzies from our colleagues.
And someone in the pantry of our office has made toast. The golden warm aroma is floating past my nose and it brings me back to snow days.
Toast, coffee, bacon and baking cookies are my favorite smells in the world. They transport me to mornings waking up to the sound of parents in the kitchen, quiet weekends of freedom or, when I became an adult, mornings in an office building in New York City or in Los Angeles where the day begins and so much is ahead.
Even though the lush aroma of toast is hitting me in the middle of a chilly Los Angeles studio office, the smell is the smell of snow days. The sight of thick, fluffy piled high snow mounting up. The thrash of ice flecks ramming into the window with waves of gale forced winds. The cozy warmth of home. The thrill of the local radio or television station announcing school closures.
Sweet hot tea and the gold aroma of toasting bread for breakfast on those mornings. It makes me feel happy, carefree and brings me back to to the moments of putting on snow coats and pants, layered socks, boots, mittens, hats and bound into the fresh cold snow, breaking down a yet un- shoveled path with my legs until I made way to the road, where the plow truck barrel through, creating walls of snow drifts on both sides of the street.
One friend would come out of his house. Then another and another. A pow wow at the foot of my front path, now buried in two feet of snow. Sleds were fetched. Then an organized sleigh ride down the steepest driveway on Wilmoth Avenue would commence. That steepest driveway was my driveway.
Although the snow was high, we’d try to make our way down the winding drive to my backyard. We’d get stuck. With our bodies and legs, we’d pound the snow into a reasonably flat terrain, allowing our sleighs to get through the height.
It took a while. Our finger and toes went numb. We’d park our sleighs in front of my house. The snow would be lightening up by now. Not as windy. We’d break for a hot chocolate in my mother’s kitchen. Then – an hour later, pull on all our snow clothes and head out again for another round.
We’d sleigh one by one down the hill passing underneath the bending feather branches of our weeping willow, weighed down with the weight of snow. We stopped at the bottom where the untouched parameters of snow broke our speed.
After a while, we’d link our sled with our hands and feet, making a human sleigh ride chain. The excitement of creating a human train down the steep drive was like magic, a daisy chain of kids coming together to make a long locomotive.
On and on, the afternoon, as so many like these would, continued. With every turn of the rides, more snow was crushed and beaten down into tight, flat, slippery roadway.
A snow day was like a new project – a job. We Sleigh rode until our fingers grew numb or the white steely grey sky turned clear with blue and then grew into a sunset purples and shades of orange.
And it all started off with the aroma of toast, promising so much on this snow-free day. It takes me back to my home in Ardsley, NY.
Edited for tense.
Hey Mercury Retrograde and all things divine and spiritual. I believed in you. I believed in intention and clearing out space to make room for the next wondrous thing to come. I stayed full of intention with a dose of detachment, kept my mind to the point, left room for anything goes. I was open to the possibilities and the magic, the pain and the learning. The beauty of change and the openness to new beginnings. I did my work. I put my head down and kept plugging away, not concerned with the outcome.
But you lost me. My desire for writing and building my own create life has drifted and popped. I’m left gazing at the sky and listening to Bon Iver’s Re:Stacks until 2am, until my brain feels like it’s levitating from my head. I wander, listening to Spotify playlists lined up with songs that are cusp tunes – music that hits the twilight of the mind…that skips on the rim between thought and love. Yet…nothing stimulates the desire to do a damn thing about my life anymore.
I get it. You have to pull things into gear to align things, and it takes time. But is that what you really do? Or is this just a world filled with free will and no God/Universe – void of Mercury Retrograde excuses preventing us from working or making us not feel it.
Look at it all. My New York ever changing, and me, in Los Angeles, going adrift, money rushing out of my accounts, pining for NYC home where I’m going to have to start all over again – to find the key to this expensive place to let me back in again. Maybe I can fool it?
Me at NYC’s door: [knock…knock]
NYC: Who’s there and how much money do you have?
NYC: Graham? Graham who?
Me: Uhhhhh….land shark.
Guess that old SNL trick isn’t going to work.
So, Mercury or whatever the hell you are. You go into retrograde today and all those things where electronics don’t work and things go wrong are supposed to take hold are swirling. But that happened to me weeks ago. I’m tired of the universe, and I’m shaking my fist in the air. Taking a cue from Trent Reznor, “There is no fucking YOU, there is only me. Only.”
Ayn Rand…let’s have a talk.