Goodbye to All of You (who want to go)

Sunset Park at winter twilight is a surreal and magical place

I composed this post while I was walking home through the silent, Brooklyn, evening during a mid-winter snowstorm. I love the times when NYC is quiet and feels like it’s taking a rare, much needed pause. I just had drinks at my favorite local bar with K., the kind of place that is dim and mellow, with chatty bar tenders and perfect Manhattans every night of the week except Friday and Saturday evenings, when it seems to be taken over by obnoxious hordes. We were talking about the difficulty and constant hustle of establishing ones self and building a satisfying professional life in New York City. Somedays it feels particularly out of reach. The economy is markedly improved in recent years, because of that, more and more people want to come to live here. I always maintained that creative, smart people had a better chance to find work here than elsewhere because there were simply more opportunities available. However, there’s also a lot more competition.

New York will always draw the young, the not-so-young, the creative and ambitious. That’s part of what makes it an exciting place to be. But now with the “brand” of Brooklyn being synonymous with global cool, silicon alley rivaling silicon valley for tech innovation, and shows like Girls broadcasting an unrealistic version of what it means to be a twenty-something in Brooklyn the NYC cool factor is having a real cultural moment. I feel like it’s really putting a lot of pressure, financial and otherwise, on opportunities like jobs, social events and housing for people in my age range.

... Except if they do

Moments like this never fail… by Dzine

Lately I found myself discouraging my peers who casts doubts on living in NYC from moving out. “I spent time in 24 different US cities last year!” I tell them, “I loved them all, they are all interesting places full of creative, smart people doing cool things, but I don’t want to live in any of them! I want to live here!” I say.

“Look at the access you have to culture, public transit, great food, innovative projects, and you don’t have to own a car!” I’ll argue.

“Feel the lack of social pressure!” I’ll implore, “You can be exactly who you want to be here!”

But tonight I had a change of heart. I realized I wasn’t so much trying to convince them to stay as to convince myself that I have made the right decision. It’s as if I’m worried I’ll be left clinging to a relationship that’s run its course out of nostalgia of how things used to be when the object of my affection, and all of my friends, have moved on. What I realized is that I need to feel confident enough about my decision to dig my heels in here and stay and let others go through their own discovery process with what they need in a place to live and what they need in life.

I wrote this past fall about the backlash many artists and writers have felt against the city because they moved here to pursue their artistic dreams and felt that the reality fell short of their romantic notions. I start to wonder why I stayed and stayed devoted to the the idea that one can build a creative life here or anywhere. And then I realized this:

My romantic notions of my New York City life lasted about 3 weeks. I moved here in late August of 2001 to start college. On September 11th, I realized with a sinking feeling how little I knew about world politics, NYC, or what my life would look for feel like after that day. I realized quickly that the city owed me nothing and any attempt I might have to control my experience here would be in vain. It was in that moment I knew I could throw in the towel and go back to the life I had in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine or stay and tough it out. I knew if I stayed I was making a long term commitment to the city. I decided to stay.

I’ve stayed in NYC through loneliness, depress, recession, my saturn returns (if you believe in that stuff), and long enough to build up a career and now, begin pursuing a different direction. I’ve earned two degrees, become fluent in a second language, started to learn to code, played in bands, written a book, become a confident NYC cyclist, planned and then abandoned plans to move to Paris or LA, and most of all, eeked out a somewhat stable life for myself working in the arts, culture and education field, while nurturing friendships, hopes, dreams and plans.

Our rock'n'roll lifestyle to do list

NYC rock’n’roll life style to do list at my band practice space

In high school a teacher told me, “You can live however you want in New York City,” when I confessed to her my dream to study and live here. Since then I’ve taken her advice to heart. But living how you want in NYC often means doing so on the city’s terms. And that can be a tough proposition. So, if you find you can’t live how you want here, there’s no harm and no foul. There’s a place out there for you. It’s waiting. Go. there are so many places to be be cultured, innovative and interesting. To launch new businesses and make new art. And no matter what, New York City’s frenetic rhythm continues, whether it’s the current barometer of cultural cool or not, and honestly, whether you or I are here at all.  But I plan to be here. You are always welcome to come back to visit.

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Maybe So: life, lessons and a horse named Ben

Me and Ben in 1999

I was a moody, stubborn, impatient teenager. I had big visions and felt determined to accomplish something worthwhile in the world. I felt frustrated because I felt like I had not and that it was already too late. I was full of self-doubt and anger and all those other potent emotions that swirl around within us so intensely at that age. One of the biggest grounding factors in my life was, like so many girls, horses. I had taken riding lessons since I was eight and starting competing in horse shows when I was eleven. When I was fourteen I realized one of the biggest dreams of my life up to that point: to own my own horse.

Ben and I on the day I got him

Maybe So, aka “Ben” was an all-American mix, a Morgan Quarter Horse cross with a lazy walk and a white star on his forehead. He was as headstrong I was and so much of our relationship became a battle of wills: I wanted him to trot fast, he wanted to trot slow, I wanted him to jump over that log in the woods, he was sure it was going to eat him for lunch, I wanted him to walk calmly into the horse trailer and he was convinced that was the last place he ever wanted to go.

Season's Greetings

Our season’s greetings picture, 2010

I put all my free time into taking care of him, training him and riding him. I even read him beat poetry. We were not champions, though we did win a lot of ribbons at shows as we got to know each other better. More importantly, he taught me the kind of things that it’s impossible to teach teenagers except through experience. He helped take all those raw emotions and channel them into something productive and focused.

Show jumping at an event in Massachusetts

He threw me off onto the hard ground more times than I can remember and I knew that unless I faced my fear and anger and got back up the fear would win.

I learned that I couldn’t hide from the emotions I was feeling: he could feel if I was nervous, angry, impatient or excited.

He taught me that hard work can win you ribbons and respect, but life will always be unfair, and that’s okay. There will always be someone with the more expensive horse, the better trainer, more natural talent, and true validation of your hard work will only come from within.

He taught me that it wasn’t always about my agenda. I could arrive at the barn convinced today was the day we would master a certain technique and he would show me that it was really about convincing him not to be afraid of the puddle in the riding ring.

Okay, I'll be cute

He taught me patience and to look at the big picture. One show, one jump, one routine might have gone less than perfect, but if I looked at what we were working on over time I could see improvement. I learned very quickly I couldn’t blame him for my own mistakes, misunderstandings or shortcomings.

Even when I stopped riding and moved on to punk rock and New York City I would always feed him carrots and pet his velvet soft nose whenever I cam home. He always snapped to attention when I called out “Hi, Ben!” across the pasture and eyed me warily, worried I was going to make him work.

Me, Ben, Lynnli

Me, Ben and Lynnli, another young woman who loved him, in 2010

I had a premonition last Friday while I was walking home. I suddenly felt that he was gone. I knew it was time and he was too weak to make it through another Maine winter. Tears dripped down my cheeks as I walked through the early fall twilight. So when I got the call this week I wasn’t surprised. I understood it was the right moment and I’m glad he decided it was his time to go.

Ben was 31 years old, the same age as me. He was a part of my life for 17 years. 17 years later I’m still moody and headstrong and determined, but he played a big role in helping me grow up and move past my raw emotions. I feel lucky we got so much time together. RIP, my best friend.

Ben and Sonny in their pasture in Maine

Here is New York After 10 Years

Brownstone Home

Photo in front of my old apartment taken by Leila Bergougnoux in the fall of 2007.

These scrubbed clean, clear blue skies of late summer and early fall remind me that I moved to New York City ten years ago this week. It’s been quite a decade for New York City and for me personally.  I moved here reluctantly to attend college after a dreamy year spent living in Portland, Oregon, working very little and indulging in my creative projects and wallowing in what remained of my teen angst. After growing up in Maine I was dead-set against going to college on a quaint campus and tired of small town life in general. On visits throughout high school to New York City I feel in love. It had it all: art, culture, fashion, food and excitement. It was the polar opposite of where I came from. “Who needs trees?” I said, “The nature in the parks will suit me just fine.”

Rigging and Manhattan

New York has not ceased to amaze and surprise me, but moving here was not an easy transition. I got sick immediately from the polluted air, the noise from the construction outside of my window seemed to bore into my skull, and then September 11th happened. The events of that day and what followed completely reshaped what I expected from the city, academic, activism, and work. I really can’t talk about 10 years in New York without talking about September 11th and all that came after, but this post really isn’t about September 11th. Let’s suffice it to say this morning the public radio station replayed reporting from that morning and I had to sit down and cry.

I didn’t think I would stay in New York very long after graduation. I decided that I would give it two years after I got my diploma, but when I started working in museums and arts organizations I kept pushing that timeline back, until finally I gave up and decided to stay here. I felt like my friendships and the adult life I’ve been able to construct were too hard won to walk away from. I’ve lived in Sunset Park, Brooklyn since 2002 and slowly the borough worked its charms on me and I feel like it’s an important part of my identity. I also discovered another great thing about New York: its proximity to Europe. Flights to Europe from New York are plentiful and can be cheap if you know how to search.

If Paris is France...

But looking back over these past ten years I’ve wrote a lot about New York and I wanted to share a little bit of those thoughts to chart how my relationship to the city has changed and evolved.

“You always choose the most challenging position you can think of!” my mother chided me when I moved to New York City to go to college.  “Of course you picked the biggest, toughest, most of expensive city in the US, you couldn’t imagine less!” she reminded me when I lamented how difficult my new NYC life was.  And it was difficult.

In October of 2002 I wrote, “New York is bad posture and holding my breath. Too many aches and tight, sore shoulders and no one to work them out.”

At the brink of the (still ongoing) war against Iraq in 2003 I wrote, “I need to write something about how it feels to be in New York right now – the subway stations full of national guard, machine guns ready. How is it constricting my thoughts and hopes and playing on my fear?”

But the city still entranced me, “For me the magic of New York isn’t in Manhattan, it’s in the strange faraway feeling places in the outer boroughs that you can still take the subway train to. A collision of urban and beach, crashing waves and a $5 ride on the Wonder Wheel. Vacant lots in gentrified neighborhoods, cracking streets, rusting hunks of abandoned junk, weeds in the middle of poshness. It shows the gaps in the idea of glittery concrete and steel and shows that cities have a force that cannot be regulated.”

Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach

Full of Brooklyn pride, I wrote a love letter to Brooklyn for the last issue of my zine Indulgence, which I put out in 2008. “If Brooklyn were not attached to the rest of New York it would still be among the largest cities in the United States.  I’ve been living here for six years. That doesn’t make me a local, but it means I have grown to appreciate my borough through all my early-to mid-to late twenties ups and downs. Brooklyn is my immediate reality and my basis of comparison. Brooklyn feels at times just as much like a small town, an industrial landscape, and even, suburban.”

NYC Rainbow

NYC Rainbow, Fall 2007

I think it is E.B. White who describes New York best, so I’m going to leave you with his words. My mother gave me Here is New York for Christmas after I’d been living here for 4 years. I was struck by how this little book, written about New York in the Forites, captures the New York I experience every day.

The opening: “There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”

Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

And the closing:

“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.

All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”

Thank you, Mr. White. And here’s to another ten years.

Celebrating the end of our Brooklyn Museum internship in 2006 in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden