Despite my now peaceful surroundings, I’ve been finding it hard to relax. Having wanted to get the F out of the city for so long, I assumed I would immediately snap into a zen state while the stress of 10 years of fast-paced living simply melted away. Not how it works, apparently.
I finally realized that in order to embrace my new North Country home I had to come to terms with my time in the city – not just why I left, but why I came in the first place. The way Toni Morrison describes “the City” in her novel Jazz helped to remind me of the magnetic draw NYC had to a small-town girl:
Nobody says it’s pretty here; nobody says it’s easy either. What it is is decisive, and if you pay attention to the street plans, all laid out, the City can’t hurt you.
Do what you please in the City, it is there to back and frame you no matter what you do. And what goes on on its blocks and lots and side streets is anything the strong can think of and the weak will admire. All you have to do is heed the design–the way it’s laid out for you, considerate, mindful of where you want to go and what you might need tomorrow.
Hospitality is gold in this City; you have to be clever to figure out how to be welcoming and defensive at the same time. When to love something and when to quit.
They weren’t even there yet and already the City was speaking to them. They were dancing. And like a million others, chest pounding, tracks controlling their feet, they stared out the windows for first sight of the City that danced with them, proving already how much it loved them. Like a million more they could hardly wait to get there and love it back.
However they came, when or why, the minute the leather of their soles hit the pavement–there was no turning around. Even if the room they rented was smaller than the heifer’s stall and darker than a morning privy, they stayed to look at their number, hear themselves in an audience, feel themselves moving down the street among hundreds of others who moved the way they did, and who, when they spoke, regardless of the accent, treated language like the same, intricate, malleable toy designed for their play. Part of why they loved it was the specter they left behind.
And when the spring comes to the City people notice one another in the road; notice the strangers with whom they share aisles and tables and the space where intimate garments are laundered. Going in and out, in and out the same door, they handle the handle; on trolleys and park benches they settle thighs on a seat in which hundreds have done it too…it’s the time of year when the City urges contradiction most…Really there is no contradiction–rather it’s a condition; the range of what an artful City can do.
“Before I came North I made sense and so did the world. We didn’t have nothing but we didn’t miss it. Who ever heard of that? Living in the City was the best thing in the world. What can you do in the country?…How many trees can you look at?”
I ought to get out of this place…It was loving the City that distracted me and gave me ideas. Made me think I could speak its loud voice and make that sound sound human. I missed the people altogether. I thought I knew them and wasn’t worried that they didn’t really know about me. Now it’s clear why they contradicted me at every turn: they knew me all along…I thought I’d hidden myself so well as I watched them through windows and doors…and all the while they were watching me.
Busy, they were, busy being original, complicated, changeable–human, I guess you’d say, while I was the predictable one, confused in my solitude into arrogance, thinking my space, my view was the only one that was or that mattered. It never occurred to me that they were thinking other thoughts, feeling other feelings, putting their lives together in ways I never dreamed of.
I want to be in a place already made for me, both snug and wide open. With a doorway never needing to be closed, a view slanted for light and bright autumn leaves but not rain. Where moonlight can be counted on if the sky is clear and stars no matter what.
I made a mix recently called “I Loved New York” – I hope you enjoy it:
New York – Cat Power
Come On/My Way of Life – Biggie featuring Frank Sinatra
New York Girls – Morningwood
Bang – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Tattooed Love Boys – The Pretenders
Rockaway Beach – The Ramones
Fuck and Run – Liz Phair
The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson
Musicology – Prince
Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) – Beyonce
Mr. Brightside – The Killers
Fairytale of New York – The Pogues
$100 Cover – Japanther
Lessons Learned – Matt and Kim
The Fairest of the Seasons – Nico
The Only Living Boy In New York – Simon & Garfunkel
Wildflowers – Tom Petty
Time’s A Wastin’ – June Carter and Conway Twitty
Proud Mary – Ike and Tina Turner
Gypsy – Fleetwood Mac
Glad Tidings – Van Morrison
I Loved You Better Than You Knew – The Carter Family
Book cover from The Toni Morrison Anchor