Feeling the weight of it all today. At my desk. Overwhelmed. I turn to a dear poem.
I’ve recently faced the potential choice of leaving New York City for a dream job back in Michigan. To the amusement of many that know me and also myself, I was not feeling “ready” to leave. Because despite the struggle that is living in New York City, I love it (and I hate it and I love it and I hate it). But truly, there are innumerable moments that the city catches me off guard with how much I love it.
So in blog listical fashion, 20 things that I’ve come to love about New York City:
- Standing on the train platform watching the train lights as they peer out from the tunnel and come rushing toward and past me.
- The public transit system, period. (Except when the 2 & 3 trains aren’t running…)
- The view of the downtown Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge while crossing the Manhattan Bridge on the train to Brooklyn.
- The Conservatory Garden, Central Park: where I first felt consolation in moving here.
- That a car has the idiocy of backing up the opposite way down a one way street and turning backwards back onto the avenue (and laughing about it with a random guy next to me).
- Crossing the street and glancing right and left to see the Empire State or WTC peaking out (or just the long long avenues crisscrossing the city).
- Laughing with strangers, that moment of brief beautiful connection.
- Letting the anonymity of the crowds of Times Square envelope me.
- The wild wacky styles folks rock, being boldly themselves.
- Knowing the supers on my block and exchanging hello’s morning, afternoon, or evening.
- Hearing other languages and rarely English come through my window from neighboring apartments.
- Harlem – feeling at once at home and never quite at home, a still nagging discomfort that continues to prompt reflection.
- Walking down New York streets day or night in low heeled boots pounding pavement feeling powerful and small all at once.
- Finding the small quiet places (they exist).
- Curling up in my room keeping an eye on my block, knitting or journal in hand, candles flickering and feeling safe and content.
- The elderly woman across the street that watches the block from her perch in her window.
- Madison Square Park where I realized I did like and maybe yes had love for this place and living here.
- Looking up at a crowded subway train and wondering how we all got exactly there.
- Crosstown buses (when they arrive in a timely manner – only then).
- Walking to the top of my building and just standing, breathing, soaking in my presence in this massive and yet intimately local city.
In the end, my decision was made for me. I didn’t get the job offer so I did not actually have to make the decision. I’m still not sure what I would have done. I really wanted the job. And I really didn’t want to leave…yet. So it’s a decision to be faced squarely another day. Meanwhile, I’m owning up to my love for this wondrously chaotic city I’m honored to have been even a tiny part of by living some of my own wondrously chaotic life here.
I always find myself here
(In the presence of God)
In this place
That is immediately quieter than
The chaos around it
Inviting me to still
The chaos within me
At important moments
I find myself here
(In the presence of God)
I’ve lived in New York City for three years. My third year anniversary passed without much recognition except to myself that it had happened. In these last months I’ve returned again to different places that after three years have layers of memory and meaning. What happens, I suppose, from living in a place and it becomes home.
I’m here in a place within this place of New York City where I first felt consolation. First felt, ‘I don’t yet know why but I am meant to be here.’ And God is with me. Breathe. I found my breathe here. And I returned again and again in moments of transition and not knowing what might be next – to breathe. Be here. Again I find myself suspended in a lot of unknowns and not knowing where I might be going. In this place though I can simply be here. Breathe. Be.
“Councils”by Marge Piercy
We must sit down
and reason together.
We must sit down.
Men standing want to hold forth.
They rain down upon faces lifted.
We must sit down on the floor
on the earth
on stones and mats and blankets.
There must be no front to the speaking
no platform, no rostrum,
no stage or table.
We will not crane
to see who is speaking.
Perhaps we should sit in the dark.
In the dark we could utter our feelings.
In the dark we could propose
and describe and suggest.
In the dark we could not see who speaks
and only the words
would say what they say.
Thus saying what we feel and what we want,
what we fear for ourselves and each other
into the dark, perhaps we could begin
to begin to listen.
Perhaps we should talk in groups
small enough for everyone to speak.
Perhaps we should start by speaking softly.
The women must learn to dare to speak.
The men must bother to listen.
The women must learn to say, I think this is so.
The men must learn to stop dancing solos on
After each speaks, she or he
will repeat a ritual phrase:
It is not I who speaks but the wind.
Wind blows through me.
Long after me, is the wind.
Where I am from….now that is a complex and simple question. I am from Michigan. I am from Metro-Detroit. From a lawyer and an architect who stopped practicing to raise me. I am from her. From her sacrifices.
I am from wealth that was fought for and the benefit of stepping onto the bottom stair of an escalator of public policies that brought families like mine from working class to middle class to upper class. Yes upper class.
I am not from Harlem. I live in Harlem. I live and love and have been broken and picked myself back up in Harlem. In this city. I am not from here. I can never claim that. I love here. I’ve loved and love here. I am not from here.
I am from Metro-Detroit. Not just Detroit because to leave out the metro obscures the reality that yes my family’s history and mine is bound up with the city’s and that means it’s bound up in the ways it’s developed as a metropolitan area. How it’s been divided into urban v suburban and suburban areas became urban as soon as they became black.
My roots don’t run deep in the geographic place I’m from. My family’s history does.
The way I move and breathe and seek to live in this world is rooted in constant learning that started at Mercy high and continued at (university of) Michigan. In workshops with men I was taught to fear and instead I created with. Laughed with. Cried for. My roots are communities I happened upon and communities I created.
I can never claim to be from Harlem. To be from the city. To claim being from means an early shaping by that place and those people. Shaping that unfolds and is lost and unearthed as early memories are.
Two and a half years. I’ve been shaped by the city. But I’m not from here. I’m from Michigan.
Ive been sitting on this piece for a while. About 6 months — as it states I’ve been in the city only 2.5 years when I just passed my third year anniversary August 13th. I shared it aloud for the first time this weekend while on retreat with the young folks I work with (who live all over New York City and are from all over the world) as an example of an “I am from” poem. Take 10 minutes, write your own – what comes up?
The first time I took it slow
At times fast but reminded
The journey would be long
Take my time
As I was taking my time
In New York City
I took time to breath
That was my intention
And my legs my body my breathe
Balanced over cliffs
That almost froze me
To the end when to my amazement
I realized I could do it again
And I did
In New York City I grew
And watered roots that started
Like a tree out of rocks
On the side of the mountain
I climbed again this time
More urgently I scrambled
Methodical yet impatient
Faster bc I knew the
Way to go as I knew how to
Go through a city
I never thought
I’d call home
And I paused in wonder and spoke
Of dreams I dared not have the first
Time I climbed.
Another year gone and the place I never thought I’d call home
I can’t imagine leaving
As I look out at each ridge
I’d been too before but never been the same at twice
By heat and sweat and not enough water
The harder path isn’t always
the right path
And the journey continues
Ever the same
I’ll take my time.