It almost seems ungrateful to write the following, considering the lovely weekend I just spent. But my gut tells me this post has a minuscule shelf-life. Self-indulgence*, and that is what this post is, I make no bones about it, is the evil Siamese twin of self-loathing. And like a boil, if it's not lanced, it will only get worse. So onwards and up words (as it were), up my own arse. FTW!
It's amazing just how often you see New York City. On television. In movies. In adverts. I mean, you can make a concerted effort not to see it -- I don't know, cancel the Tivo's season pass to Law and Order or something -- but it will creep up on in something as seemingly innocuous as behind the opening title on Newsnight. Even something as unlikely as a Faulkner novel -- The Mansion, his final novel in the Snopes trilogy, a series about the effects of one family on one county in the Mississippi Delta -- gets a chapter in the City, complete with a beautifully evocative description of the kind only he could write.
Thanks, Billy, we'll chalk that up to the hooch, too. It's either that or think you have a personal vendetta against someone born a decade and a half after you died. And that's just crazy. Isn't it?
Anyway, I don't think you notice as much before you move there, or even while you are there, as much as you do after you leave. And it kills me to see it. It hurts. It leaves a big, five-borough-shaped hole right where my heart would be.
It might be the time of year. This time of year is a just a few weeks after I first moved there. It was long enough after that everything had sort of settled down. I had a rhythm going. I was learning where things were, and how to get around. The summer heat had finally broken, and it was nice to be outside, so I got to take a walk every day between Columbus Circle and Park Ave and 68th Street, right through Central Park.
And even if I didn't have a penny to /do/ anything, it didn't much matter, because just walking around experiencing New York is doing more than you can actively do anywhere else in the world. It's a part of the process that changes you from someone from somewhere else into a New Yorker.
And for a big hunk of the world, that means something. People who are from a city, any city, I think, can never understand that. But being a New Yorker has an allure all its own. You can say it's purely mythical, but it's not. Like any myth, there's some scruple of truth buried in it somewhere. It's a worldliness, a bored kind of savoire faire that comes from too much experience with endless possibility.
And that gets coupled with economic reality. It may be a cliche to repeat "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere", but it is true. And there are industries there that don't exist in the rest of the country. Nobody ever ran away to Des Moines to be a fashion designer; no little kid dreams of making it to the bright lights of Buffalo's Broadway shows. To be there, to be a part of it, just to actively work there is a culmination and success in and of itself, the answer to the prayer of a thousand days of work and the validation of a thousand nights of dreaming. Heady stuff.
And to leave against your will is... I don't know. Whatever the antithesis of hope is. The actualisation of despair? The physicalisation of failure. Langston Hughes wrote about the results of a dream deferred, but is it any more dangerous to shove your face up against the factual negation of an actualised dream than it is to explode? Exploding, at least, does something. It has power.
Hope is a powerful thing. So is the ability -- or is that right? -- to fool yourself into potential. I think someone's who's lost both, hope and its alchemized form, potential, has lost one of the things that makes himself. Or herself. Or hirself.
When I left, I expected to feel this way. I also expected it to get better after a while. It hasn't. What keeps me up at night, what I do now that I don't really sleep in any meaningful way any more, isn't the thought that I couldn't make it back there again. I could, I suppose, if I really wanted to. I just... why? Why slave for a decade and take all the hits in expectation of success when it can all go away in just a few days? Why hope?
It's funny. This weekend, I had a discussion with someone about blogging. "Ahh," I said. "I'm vain enough to think people will want to read what I have to say, but not so vain that I think they want to hear me read it aloud, audio-blog or podcasting style." The point of 95% or so of what I post is legitimately for that purpose, to be read. I think this falls into the other 5%; its purpose is mainly cathartic, I think, though it may then have better been written on flashpaper: to have served its purpose in organizing my thoughts, physically writing them out and editing them into the semblance of coherence, then to let catharsis, that reaction of the heart whose results we all know so well, but whose process remains shrouded in proud Athenian secrecy, work its magic thereon, and then to be burned so purely that no reliquary ash remains.
Through no active desire of my own, nor via any self-teaching, I remain deeply imbued with that deeply Protestant work ethic -- so basic and inherent that it transcends even the notional boundaries that separated the C. of E.nglish from their Dissenting fellows, and even the boundaries of that England from her Continental Reformed siblings, and so became the bedrock of both halves of early America, and which still may be the only thing in common between the South and the rest of the Country -- which holds as self-evident that work is of itself good and that a spell of productivity is the easiest way, not barring even love, for any man to heal himself of afflictions spiritual, romantic or political and that might be my cure**. So my impulse is to work. And I can and do devise a thousand petty tasks a day in the idea that some of it will do something good somewhere, but the little inky spot in the back of my brain keeps pointing out how that isn't working and ultimately a sort of permanent Doing Nothing seems like as a viable an option as doing very little.
And this, in the end, is one of those thousand daily tasks that add up to nothing. Well, I say nothing, but all it does is stir up within me anger and pity and loathing. Loathing all the more since I know mere loathing never did accomplish much (see above). And as much anger and bile it stirs up, it isn't aimless, at least. Never that. I know where it goes. As they say, I have a man for that.
*Mika and his Momma, of course, are wrong. Too much candy won't rot your soul. Self-indulgence will. Wait... No, Mika is cute enough for slack. I'll give this one to him.
**Which is, of course, why our president betakes himself to Crawford Ranch and clears brush all the time.