Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Impressions of New York

"Our lives were moving at such speed that we just kept going."
—Patti Smith, Just Kids
First there's the eavesdropping, which is generally fantastic—on campus, the subway, the street, the park, any cafe or restaurant. Then there's the combative East Coast style of conversation, back again after I'd left it in Boston four years ago, and New York accents of all varieties, which are still new to me so I can't get enough. And then, of course, what people are wearing. There's the super hip/high fashion sort, really creative wacky stuff, amazing ethnic-wear (YES to turbans), the varieties of Hasidic hats, this year's version of undergrad chic (which appears to be dominated by crop tops, sequins, and boat shoes), not to mention my growing soft spot for the dowdy middle-aged Upper West Side look—baseball hats, Dansko clogs, button-up shirts worn under Patagonia fleece vests. I love it all. I take it all in, as much as I can, at all times. I stand on new friends' rooftops at night and stare out at the city, count the average number of stories, how many windows per floor on street-facing facades, the material treatment at levels one and two, try to see if there are patterns. (Have you noticed how many more maple trees there are in New York than Chicago? Cross your fingers that the conditions are right and that in a week or two the city'll be woven through with red.)

I am a little sponge in red boots, wandering up and down the grid, getting lost below Houston when the numbered streets end. I am having an afternoon ├ęclair with espresso in the front window; an evening donut with coffee in a sticky diner booth. I am walking past the million markets lining Broadway late at night, weaving around the bags of trash being heaved onto the curb by men moving in and out of the streetlights, in and out of mysterious sidewalk puddles and the occasional skittering rat.

I can't wait to go to the ballet at Lincoln Center. I will wear a velvet dress and demand to go to a fancy hotel bar afterward where I will drop a matchbook into my clutch and snap it shut.

Desire and striving feel more palpable here. Solidity and waiting, less so. The rivers and the mouth of the ocean are less impassive than the Lake, less singular. And the bridges make them human—they can be crossed, and even crossed quickly if it's very late and you shell out for a taxi. (Counting how many nights you'll have pasta next week.)

Walking past Barnard campus toward home, you look through the gate and through the lead-lined windows and into the dining hall. All of the girls with their clean hair are eating, talking, texting over their red trays. It looks so warm and young and not for you anymore. Now hustle home and finish that last essay, girl. You got work to do.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Early Experiments in Flight

I don't have much time to write this because I'm supposed to be trying for the millionth time to decipher Derrida... but I just can't help but pause to tell the Internet that one of my best friends married a real swell guy this weekend, which meant that I got to see many of my oldest and dearest friends all at once, and my heart is still so full of love for and from them that I feel I'm not the person I was when I arrived in the Quad City airport last Thursday night.

In my head I'm beginning to sketch out a poem for everyone that includes the Mississippi River and the Tarot deck's Ten of Cups. It also includes an image that I've been thinking about a lot lately, which is this photo of one of the Wright brothers during a practice flight:

I've seen this image or versions of it many times (American corporations love a good Wright bros reference), but it wasn't until last Thanksgiving, when my dad and sister were describing their trip to Kitty Hawk, that I realized the photo's key documented weirdness: during these early, endless test flights, the brothers were flying facedown, parallel to the ground (often only a few feet from the ground), on their stomachs. In fact, my sister pointed out, they were not only supporting themselves on their stomachs, but steering with them as well, because the main mechanism that altered the movement of the plane was not controlled by their hands but by their pelvis.

All hilarious jokes about "pelvic (aeronautical) thrust" aside, I have been thinking about this strange pair of fact and image—about learning to fly with your gut—for a long time. And I would like to offer it up now to all of my beloved, fellow 20-something friends as we circle up and raise our whiskey shots and slowly press forward together into adulthood. I really think we can do it, guys. Love you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back to the Future

the great interests of man: air and light, the joy of having a body, the voluptuousness of looking.
—Mario Rossi, c/o Wallace Stevens' "Evening Without Angels"
Currently sitting at my desk in my new room in New York, surrounded by piles of class readings, tweaking out on coffee-on-an-empty-stomach, and couldn't be happier. At long last, I think, the cumulative waves of anxiety (leaving work, moving, going back to school) are subsiding, and I can feel the calm beach stretching out, grounding me.

To be clear: New York and GSAPP ain't no calm beach, but the state of mind I've entered—the one where you're no longer wondering "is this the exact right thing for me to be doing?", because you've already done the thing and now it's time to get on with it—is a beautiful place to be.

Now there is a new city to slowly discover, and hopefully savor. New friends to talk to and wander around with and crank open your heart and mind. And millions of new thoughts to have, and interrogate, and turn over and over until they agglomerate into a project that absorbs you to the degree that, at least for awhile, you no longer care about anything besides hacking away at it day after day.

I'd forgotten that scholarship is a pleasure. A real, true pleasure. And to be inhabiting this funny space right now at the beginning of the semester, when I don't have much to do yet except go to the park with my books and slowly remember how much I love to read—it's quite beautiful. Apparently we remain ourselves no matter how old-and-tired-before-our-time we get. Relationships, careers, travels, marriage (marriages?), The Future: who knows. For now I'm still that kid in stirrup pants reading Beezus and Ramona all afternoon, not noticing that my lemonade is sitting on an anthill.

PS: Speaking of things I love to read, my friend Fowler just posted in his incredibly excellent blog, so we're all in luck.