Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Breaking up is (so strangely) hard to do.

How very odd.

Our break up is now official, New York. The closing of my Harlem apartment happened this week. Without me. Because I had already evaporated, New York. Sorry, I simply could not make it. And as you are well aware, the fact that I was not physically present at our final date was most definitely your fault. So, so typical of you, New York.

So very like you, New York! We had made three dates, marked in ink on our calendars. But they came and went while three lawyers, two real estate agents and a co-op Board argued and prevaricated. Finally, one of the three lawyers suggested a date that I had already said was impossible for me, so I just sighed, sucked it up, signed the POA, sent it to my lawyer and managed the break up with you. Remotely.

So amazingly typical of you, New York, that we simply could not find a mutually convenient time to meet! Next time have your people call my people, OK? You remind me of all my New York "friends" who I only "see" on Facebook because nowhere in their high-powered New York lives is there ever a free moment to meet in the flesh. Ooh so sorry! So wish I could be there! Call me soon? Love you lots. (X bloody O.) You, New York, have been consistent from beginning to end.

Until three hours before closing, I was still getting calls from your lawyer regarding changes in the contract of sale (details which cost me money, of course), but by that point I was already with FF in the car speeding purposefully towards our new life, down way south of the Delaware Welcome Center. "They want to change the XYZ to the PDQ", my lawyer said. Yeah, yeah whatever, I shot back. Just. Do. It.

So in true New York fashion, I let my person meet with your people, and he stood in for me at what might have, could have been,most certainly should have been an important and defining moment. He called me at 5:10 to let me know it was done and that he had deposited the check in my bank account. By this morning there were some extra zeroes right there in my balance, and in those cold, silent numbers was written: The End.

I had hoped for some kind of ritual to end our time together. I had hoped to pass the certificate of shares for my beloved, sunny co-op apartment to the nice French people who had bought it, perhaps offering a little speech, thanking everyone, and going out for drinks afterwards to raise a glass to you, New York. Then I would have boarded the NJ Transit express train to Trenton for the last time, and I would have enjoyed those 57 quiet minutes, pondering what we have been to each other, getting thoughtful as I always do as the train glides across the Meadowlands which are impossibly, unexpectedly beautiful at sunset. Instead, the end came with a 30 second phone call: "OK, I've deposited the check. See you!" Great. Thanks. Click.

So that's how it is, New York, huh? After all we've been through together? After 22 years? A sigh and a fat check?

I know that it's over, New York, but I still can't quite feel it. I guess all big love dies hard. The truth is that as of now I never, ever have to go back to see you again. I am free of you. Sure, I may return someday to visit the few luminous souls who made my 22 years with you worthwhile. Perhaps I will stand once again in the cool, gray silence of the Guggenheim spiral near closing time when all you hear is your own breath and the shuffling steps of the security guard coming to kick you out onto Fifth Avenue. Maybe someday I will again sit motionless in Bryant Park, watching the human comedy speed-walk by in its custom suit and tie. Yes, maybe I'll see you again, New York.


But for now, I think it's best we spend some time apart.

Photograph: Untitled (crowd 1), 1992, Alexey Titarenko, Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York

Friday, June 10, 2011

Going, going, gone.

The past few weeks have been all about the acceleration towards The Big Move. I am physically and emotionally tired. Breathless. Excited. Torn.

FF and I have agreed to buy a house in North Carolina where we will start a very new and different life together, and that feels radical enough for a troubadour like me. Next week it is likely that the New York apartment will close and I will hand over the keys, forever losing my "foothold" in the New York City. That too is breathtaking change, even after all the build-up as remarked upon in this blog. And we are also leaving Tiny Town after two enchanted years and two months here, and it feels surprising and shocking to me though the leaving comes from plans long in the making.

I do not do all that well with change. Viewed from the outside, I am efficient, organized and admirably energetic in the way I organize people, re-locations and projects of all sorts. My image is especially shiny right now in my circle considering that I am closing on two residences and moving from two residences in 90 days time while still rather hobbled by my recently broken right ankle. Yet I appear to be a whirlwind of forward movement against all obstacles. Within, I am straining to slow down, bending against the existential speed of it all and I am in mourning over the places and people that I am leaving behind. Again. Only FF gets to see the tired, the occasional flood of tears, my existential struggle. Poor FF. But that's one of jobs of a mate.

While I patted dark, powdery coffee grounds into my little silver Bialetti espresso maker this morning in order to rev up the old engine, I was contemplating my mother. She has lived in the same house in the same town that I grew up in for half a century. She has no intention of leaving, not even for a short trip. My mother has been there so long that, in some ways, she has become the place while the place has actually left her. She has been the constant, living in that house, opening her bookshop every day, going to the Acme market, the post office, the local bank, the local privately-owned pharmacy. For many people in the area, including old school friends of mine, Mother is more of a constant than the streets and buildings themselves.

Every so often she will tell me how another store has closed, another person has died, and some other has moved away. The other day it was the Acme supermarket that she's been shopping at since I was a little girl. She knows everybody there, and calls them by name (first) and they call her by hers (title and last). When that store closed recently, it was a death for her, the loss of another piece of her life, and until my sister took her over to the Penn Valley market where she saw most of the old staff had been relocated, she didn't brighten. She walked through the market like a union shop steward, reported my sister with an audible grin, checking in on everybody to make sure they were OK. Yes, my mother has been where she lives long enough to have actually become more the place than the place itself.

That has not been my experience. I've moved a lot. Even the moves within Manhattan Island have been like moves to other countries. I separate my Lower East side period from my Harlem period with a thick black line. My trail has gone from Mom's house to New Haven, New Haven to the Lower East Side, Lower East Side to Upper West Side. Upper West Side to Long Island. Long Island back to Upper West Side. Upper West Side to Harlem, Harlem to Berlin, Berlin to Cologne, Cologne back to Harlem, Harlem to New Jersey, New Jersey to Tiny Town. And there are missing bits in that chain of events, too. Now this move, perhaps my last, is from Tiny Town to North Carolina. That's a lot of boxes, baby! Of course, material things have been lost along the way, though I have always tried to be careful to place my belongings with care and not leave a trail. Always there are people lost along the way, jokes, a place that made good tacos, and lots of other bits and rituals. As we get ready to make this Great Leap South, I am already conscious than many of the faces that now furnish my world will not remain in my ken. As it has been and ever shall be, a very few stick and many fall away.

Why have I moved so much? Why have I embraced constant change when I love so deeply, and lose the familiar so hard? Like Esperanza in Sandra Cisneros's excellent book, The House on Mango Street, I have always carried within me the ideal of My House. It would be a house with two floors and an attic, not too big and not too small. It would have a fireplace or two, and it would not be new but would have the wonderful scars and beauty marks that age brings, and its basement would offer the cool, mineral smell of the earth and unperturbed air. My House would have land, not too much and not too little, where I would grow fruit trees and a vegetable garden and perennials that would surprise and delight me every spring with their faithful coming. And (here I am different from the highly independent Esperanza) it would have in it a man who loved me very, very much.

None of the places I ever lived before were My House. I knew it when I lived in them. And though each of these places had its clear purpose, they were like passageways to another place and I lived lightly in them. I would never really settle in, never fix those cracks in the wall, choosing instead to cover their defects with a bright cloths, pictures, temporary furniture and my gaze left deliberately out of focus. I adjusted my eyes to not see the imperfections, because the inherent and more important imperfection of all of these places was that they were not My House. I knew, I always knew, I'd be moving on.

Ironically, my life as a traveling musician made me feel as "at home" as I have ever felt. The migrant life of the troubadour suited me as nothing before ever had with its sensation of constant motion and novelty, aided by the occasional revisiting of familiar stages and favorite hotels. While I was on the road with a guitar on my back, a suitcase in one hand and an amplifier in the other, I was at home in the whole wide earth and I did not have to feel the constant tension of seeming to be living in place while knowing that it was not my place. I was truly transient, an acknowledged outsider. On the road with my huckleberry partner in music, Mountain Sea, nowhere and everywhere was our home, and we took possession of our world with our songs, our rituals, and our laughter. Anywhere the wandering troubadours arrived was good enough for us: a favorite hotel room, a stage we liked, an isolated railroad station near the Black Sea, or a first-class cabin on an ICE train going 300 KMH. We knew the ropes, knew how to sleep on trains, we knew how to pack a bag -- and we were always on our way by check out time, leaving to others the hard job of staying in place.

Coming back to New York after traveling the world, both Mountain Sea and I felt a bit lost for a while. Lost were the familiar rocking motion of the train and the rituals of the road that made everywhere seem like home. Coming to a stop, we felt completely uncomfortable. Sometimes motion can calm you down, and stopping can make your mind race. My mind raced a lot, until I realized that what I needed was FF, and I set off to find him.

Each move brings with it loss. Each move brings with it some gain. Mother says she hates long goodbyes, and I think both of us suffer any length of leave-taking. I learned it from her. But isn't all life and every moment a sweet goodbye to something? And isn't any thought of permanence an utter illusion?

FF and I so look forward to moving into Our House in a month. We are happy. I know there are cool, empty rooms holding their breath and waiting for our coming, waiting to be filled with new music, new spirit, and new love. We go there knowing that the walls have held other loves, other lives, other sorrows and, if all goes well, we will make it a better place than we found it and, after we are gone, Our House will stand sturdy, ready to hold other hearts.

It is Our House now, the one I have been waiting for all my life. The door is opening to so many possibilities. We are almost home.

Photo above of artwork by Nils Udo: "Das Nest"