I’m back


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I.

I got yelled at.

I’d been back in New York for good, or at least as long as “for good” can be guaranteed by someone who moves a lot, for barely 20 minutes.

And I got yelled at.

Technically it was Franco who got yelled at because he’d been the one driving.

But I’d been the one who had said, YES! Drive over that spikey thing that could potentially damage our rental car in plain sight of the rental-car people just before we return our rental car because YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, NAMSAYN?

We hovered over the spikey thing for a second – I kid you not, a second – when the man driving the bus in front of us got out of the bus, noting our confusion, and said, ever so tenderly:

IT FUCKING SAYS “ENTRANCE.” WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WAITING FOR? GO GO GO.

What a dick, I thought.

I was home.

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II.

The most valuable thing I learned in grad school is good work has to be true.

It’s something everyone knows to be true and believes they seek, but ridiculously hard to do.

Too often we’re too dazzled by bells and whistles and pretty things to recognize that what’s below the surface is nothing.

That we would have found the real shit, the more interesting shit, a couple of layers below that surface had we just dug a little deeper and racked our brains a little harder.

Like writing, it can’t be taught.

We can be guided to it. We can look at past truths and deconstruct them. We can ooh and ahh. But because each piece of work requires its own truth, whatever we learn from the past can’t always be applied to the present.

But what makes it really hard, what keeps us from striving for it, isn’t that it’s this nebulous thing only a genius can come up with.

It’s because no one really demands it.

Sometimes it takes too long and requires a lot of what looks like sitting around doing nothing when what you’re really doing is turning your thoughts over and over in your head until they form something cohesive that resembles an idea.

It’s hard because it’s much easier to stop before we find it. We can get by with much less.

So, why seek it at all?

Because it’s the only thing that fulfills. Not money, not reward, not external validation.

For a writer, it’s what sustains after writing hundreds of shitty lines, spending weeks on a project only to throw it away, and releasing a beloved something to an empty room.

You pat yourself on the back.

Think it’s a piece of shit.

And start over.

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III.

I’m drawn to truth.

I like exposing truths and making people uncomfortable. Or delighted. Or surprised. Or sad. Or whatever.

It’s why I’m drawn to New York.

It’s a place where you can find the most beautiful things – theater, art, food – and no one shies away from the struggle that makes them possible.

People are open about it. They talk about the hustle. The rent. The shit pay.

They not just talk about it, they live it.

It’s the kind of mentality that others might see as cynical, rude and unpleasant. To me, it’s the kind of mentality that breeds optimists.

It acknowledges life can at once be brutal and ugly as well as beautiful and great.

It comes from a place of truth, and it binds us.

In New York City, it happens every day.

It’s when the richest and the poorest stand next to each other on the train and think: I’ve got to make it to the end of today.

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E.B. White’s New York


Before moving to the city, I obsessively read about it.

Throughout my research, people often referenced E.B. White’s essay, “Here is New York.” I didn’t get a chance to read it until after I’d already moved, and perhaps it was better that way. Much of what he says can only be understood by experiencing it.

A former New Yorker, White wrote the essay on a visit in the summer of 1948. He recalled arriving in the city as a young writer, bolstered by his proximity to the giants of his field.  He had been living in Maine for quite some time by the time he wrote it, but his memories of the city remained vivid. Many of his observations are as true now as they were 60 years ago.

“To a New Yorker,” White writes, “the city is both changeless and changing.”

Seven other observations:

the gift of loneliness & the gift of privacy
“The strangers of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending on a good deal of luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”

there are three new yorks:
the new york of commuters, of natives & of settlers.

“Of these three 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. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”

it is a work of art, a mystery.
“The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniments of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.”

it’s for the ambitious.
“The city is always full of young worshipful beginners — young actors, young aspiring poets, ballerinas, painters, reporters, singers — each depending on his own brand of tonic to stay alive, each with his own stable of giants.”

it’s not for the weak.
“The city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience — if they did they would live elsewhere.”

it’s a microcosm of the world.
“The collision and the intermingling of these millions of foreign-born people representing so many races and creeds make New York a permanent exhibit of the phenomenon of the world. The citizens of New York are tolerant not only from disposition but from necessity. The city has to be tolerant, otherwise it would explode in a radioactive cloud of hate and rancor and bigotry.”

it’s 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.”

(About the image: Greenwich Village, 2007)

Edit: This post made it to WordPress’s Freshly Pressed for Oct. 7. Thanks, WordPress, and thanks to the wonderful comments!