I’ve been fairly disoriented since my return home from New York. There’s something inside me that seems fundamentally different, but after almost a week of pondering I still can’t quite pinpoint what it is or how it feels. New York changed something in me, something yet to be determined or discovered.
One thing I have noted is the transition from the nature-dominated Bay Area to the very urban environment of NYC and back again causes me to feel very different about myself. Here at home, where I walk on a trail almost daily and at the minimum weekly, I am very attuned to my animal nature. In fact, I’m sure I’ve written about this before somewhere, but sometimes I feel convinced that I am an animal just playing at being a human. Somehow I got stuck inside a human body so I fake my way through civilization convincing others of my humanness but not myself.
I didn’t feel that way in New York. I felt very human. I enjoyed all the clever human-made things: subway trains, the entire subway system, architecture, art. I wanted to be inside, I felt a call to interiors of buildings. I felt as if I was curling up inside myself, not in a bad way but in a cozy way. I really forgot my wildness.
When I returned and got my first glance of the serpentine prairie, I was amazed how the beauty didn’t jump out at me. I had gotten so used to looking at art — I spent hours and hours in art museums over the last two weeks — that nature seems monochromatic and dull for a moment. Then I started walking. It wasn’t long before a feeling came over me. It was a feeling of aliveness, of life bursting out all around me in every blade of grass, every rock, every tree, in the air. That tingling, awesome feeling only happens to me in nature. Once I felt that, I saw the beauty again of the surroundings, and I felt the animal side of me awaken.
I am amazed at how completely who I feel I am is so mutable and so influenced by my environment.
Today I came home to California. There was a clear blue sky, bright sunshine, and lush greenery. And somehow I missed New York. Go figure.
Again, I’m not actually writing this in New York but on the train from Boston to New York. Being on the train and having so much time with nothing really to do is great. I just spent some time reading through all my old posts that were written in the month of December (which it is now) since 2008. One that I wrote last year gave me pause. I realized that I have successfully relinquished the thought that I should have more of a formed idea of how my life should go and have accepted that I am evolving. In other words I’ve managed to stop judging myself, at least on this one issue. I’ve also managed to accept that there will be many more changes ahead inside myself.
I’m strangely eager to get back to New York to have my two more days there. It was great to see all the family and good friends in Massachusetts, but because of the former I was sometimes uncomfortable or angry. I’ve had so few negative emotions in my time in New York that I feel like I am fleeing to a life raft. It is so crazy that on this trip New York has come to symbolize a cozy, safe place that I am loathe to leave. And yet, in two days, I will. Leave, that is.
I’m not actually in New York at the moment. I’m on the train to Boston. I’m passing through Connecticut along the shore and can see Long Island Sound. I’m getting that creeped-out feeling I get whenever I’m in Connecticut. There’s something about the buildings and landscape that makes me feeling really uncomfortable, especially on a gray day like today.
(A tangent: more and more I see folks spelling “gray” as “grey”. I guess the British have won).
The time for me to return home is getting closer. That is causing me a certain uneasiness. I have to start thinking again about making a living. I have to figure out my messy personal life. I have to figure out my mind and my emotions. And how to spend my time. That’s all a lot of analysis and pondering. I have been doing some pondering while away, but I feel that whatever ideas I have thought of on the East Coast may or may not translate on the West. I have to go home to find out how I really feel about things.
Also, I have to find a way to go see more art. I never make time to do this and it’s been really wonderful while I’ve been in New York.
Yesterday I was telling Cousin M., Cousin D.’s sister who is nothing like her, about how crowded it was at the Met on Christmas Eve. She said, isn’t it great how much people here care about Culture?”
Well, like pretty much everything Cousin M. says, I have a problem with that statement. I really dislike the word “Culture” to describe the arts. It’s so fucking snooty. I dislike artifices that make art or dance or poetry seem elitist. That’s probably because in general I hate elitism.
When I was at the Met that day, I didn’t get the feeling that these people were there to “experience culture”. The Met is pay what you want, so you can go even if you pay 1¢. I really got the feeling that people were there because they liked seeing cool stuff. Most people enjoy seeing cool stuff. It doesn’t take education or a degree to enjoy the many things at the Met.
So, unlike the subway you have to take to get there, the Met is pretty fucking democratic.
The time here has gone by quickly. I really only have a couple more days to explore. Today I am going to MOMA again which is probably my last museum visit. I’ll be in Boston for a few days, back for one day, then back home.
I just reread my last post and I realized there is another huge factor in my liking New York. That is, I’m not working. I was doing a tiny bit of freelance when I first arrived but that ended. My “job” is just to go to the hospital every day and visit Cousin D. This is so much easier than a “job job” for me, in that there is no bullshit. I realize the bullshit factor is very tiring to me. And what do I mean by
“the bullshit factor”? A couple of things.
- One is acting like what “we” — whoever the company or organization is — is of great importance. No one will say, you know, this is just a fucking website. It’s not important like helping someone recover from a gigantic operation for cancer.
- Secondly, my behavior at work. At some point during my career I decided it was a priority for me to get along and create a harmonious environment as best I could. Although that all sounds noble, what ends up happening is that I am not completely up front about how I am feeling about the work. That is, I don’t complain unless things are really terrible; I act cheerful even when I am suffering; and of course, not saying out loud (in reference to #1 above), “You know this doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things, right? No one’s life is at stake here.”
- Not being openly hostile to people I hate. Yes, also, sounds like a good thing in theory, but also requires some stuffing down of feelings.
I’m sure there’s more but that is what comes to mind.
At the hospital, I can just be real. I am just myself. Of course, I am just one aspect of myself; waiting on a sick person hand and foot isn’t who I am most of the time.
For all this daily experience of honesty and reality, there is a part of me that feels like a big phony. Yes, I am actually, very really, helping Cousin D. But I do have my own selfish reasons. I did also come to New York to escape my life. And also, it’s easy to look good when you are helping someone. Every time someone tells me how noble and good I am to do be spending weeks at the hospital I say, yeah well, I’m just a person, and I like doing this. I wouldn’t be doing it if it was hard for me. I’m not that noble. I’m very uncomfortable when people put me on a pedestal. I mean, who is comfortable with that?
New York, strangely, continues to charm me. I was in the Met on Christmas Eve and it was a zoo, crowded with hoards of people who wanted to do nothing but look at art before the museum closed for Christmas. I mean, that is fucking awesome. I spent my time looking at Asian and African Art. In the Asian section, I took dozens of photos of goddess figures. I plan to study them as a resource for future art pieces, as I feel I am in a sense already drawing goddesses. Also, the African masks blew my mind — some as large as six feet tall. I’ve never had any interest in masks but I’d love to make some six-foot masks.
Of course, all this “arting” makes me wonder why the hell I don’t go to art museums when I’m home. I guess one reason is that the museums just can’t compare to to New York, and another is I’d always rather be outside. So I am trying to store up as much imagery and experience while I’m here.
I do find it incredibly strange that a place that seems unpleasant at first has, in just a couple of weeks, become a place I will miss.
A few days have passed since my last post, and some strange things have happened. First of all is that my brain finally sees patterns and order in what was previously, as I said, a jumble. I can look at the crazy crowded concrete and see a street, a building, a storefront, whatever. The scale still seems bizarre. I was looking up at this huge brick building across from the Strand and I thought, how tall is that thing? I mean for a brick building it seemed at least four times taller than I would expect. It looked like something out of a fantasy movie, like Dark Planet.
The stranger thing is that in some ways I’m beginning to like being here. I don’t know why. There’s something about it that is beginning to appeal to me. It’s like being on another planet. There’s no reference to earth or nature. Or very little. The whole thing, everything, is human made and human referenced. Nothing else matter. But I myself live in a human body and have human thoughts so somehow this self-referencing world appeals to me. There’s something about it, as vast and strange as it is, that feels cozy. It’s a world built for humans, by humans.
When I’m home in California, with all the nature and beauty, the non-human side of me is so much stronger. My desire to be outside in the wild overwhelms me.
Here in New York, I am forgetting about the wild. It is so remote is seems like something I once dreamed about.
It’s still a big visual jumble to me when I walk the streets of Jackson Heights and Manhattan. In Jackson Heights the 7 train is overhead. As you walk down Roosevelt Avenue, the clatter it makes when it passes is deafening. The steel structure the train runs on has huge sheets of dull green paint peeling off in sheets, exposing the rust underneath. It looks like it’s been there hundreds of years. The street is lined with dozens and dozens and dozens of tiny shops all crammed together. People sometimes stand outside the shops, hawking the services or merchandise. Sometimes they speak in English, sometimes in Spanish.
The underground subway platforms also look very ancient. The stairways down to the platforms are dark, layered with eons of dirt and grime. They’re steep and you are always going up and down a lot of them. The subway is not democratic. You have to be in some sort of physical shape to make it to the platform. There are elevators at larger stations but it is definitely not a transportation for the disabled. It feels ruthless. Everything feels ruthless, unsympathetic. Not in a malevolent way, in an uncaring way.
Part of me thinks, this is how life really is. When I see the thousands and thousands of people on the sidewalks and trains I think, you are just one of these people. You are no more important than them. And what are we all doing? I know that some people pursue their dreams in New York City but to me it is a place without dreams or fantasy.
Cousin D. found a channel on the hospital TV that shows nature scenes, rotating in 5-10 second increments. That is the the nature you see here — on a TV. That’s it.
But, the sun is finally out today.
As this year progressed, it became weirder and weirder until I ended up where I am now — spending a couple weeks in New York City in December. I’ve never spent this much time here, and why would anyone come to New York in the winter? Especially this winter, which seems to bear a ridiculous resemblance to both Blade Runner and the weather that I’d be experiencing at home — endlessly gray and drizzly.
I’m here for a variety of reasons. The main one is that my Cousin D., whom I love very much, was diagnosed with sarcoma and had a gigantic horrible mass that had grown inside her. Four days ago she had a very extensive surgery to remove this mass as well as several internal organs. Cousin D. is a petite woman who was never physically strong, so having had so much happen to her tiny body is mind-boggling. Yesterday I saw the massive scar closed with staples, not sutures, and even though I was told how huge it was I still couldn’t believe that someone could still be alive and talking after their entire body had been opened up. And that’s just the part I can see. What’s even more mind-blowing is that I saw her get up and walk. With a lot of assistance, yes, but … WTF? Seeing all this gives me hope for her whereas I really didn’t have much before.
When I see her I don’t feel disturbed or upset. It’s strange. I just feel happy to see her. I try to help her as much as I can – brush her hair, massage her feet. I sure wish I could magically make her all better.
I’m also here to escape my life. I think I’ve done a good job of that. There was nothing really wrong with it if I think of it objectively, except it was making me sadder and sadder. I kept trying to improve it and my mood but every decision I made just made me feel worse. I have great friends who I could talk it with, and they would make me feel better, but my outlook continued to disintegrate.
It’s true that this is still technically my life but I feel completely disoriented. I have the routine of going to the hospital every day. I have some freelance work. Otherwise, I can just look around at the bizarre surroundings which are New York. I am not a big city person, nor am I a winter person. I would love to be able to see a leaf, or a bird that is not a pigeon or house sparrow. I’ve always hated winter trees, stripped of their leaves. I haven’t seen the sun since I arrived. It’s very crowded and very dreary. I can’t tell which direction is north, or whatever, and I usually have a good sense of direction. There’s a big metaphor bomb for you.
Overall, there’s not a lot to do here other than help Cousin D. and think about what I’d like my life to be like when I return to the beautiful, wonderful, sweet Bay Area. I’ve thought of nothing yet as I can barely focus on anything other than getting to the hospital for now.