I haven’t blogged since moving back to New York, and this is a consequence of the strange type of inertia that takes over when everything is competing for your attention. I try to keep myself ridiculously busy to stay functional/calm/generally sane. Fortunately I’ve been productive when it comes to writing, as I’m part of a group called the Columbia Fiction Foundry where I get advice on how to mercilessly edit Novel #2. There’s a group of about a dozen of us who meet up monthly and mutually eviscerate in the best of ways and get people in the publishing industry to talk with us about what the hell is going on. And I need that.
Last night I did a reading as part of the Hearth Gods series in the East Village, and while I think my delivery could have been better, it reminded me just how much I love performing. And I want to do more of it. It’s the same rush I got onstage when I used to dance, only now I’m not hiding behind a massive costume, and if I mess it up, it’s all on me. It’s just me and my voice and pages and pages of large print. The way the paragraphs work on the page is so completely different from how they sound out loud, or in the internal-monologue voice of a silent reading to myself. It reminds me that above all else I must always keep writing. Even if a time traveler appeared right now in front of me and said, “Tough luck, Kite, I’ve seen the future and you never get that book deal,” I would still write, because I have to write. It’s. What. I. Do. And I can’t even remember an age when I wasn’t dreaming up stories. I can’t excise part of myself just because it hasn’t gotten me precisely where I hoped it would by this point in my life. The encouragement I’ve been getting from people who have been reading Novel #2 – and really, really liking it – keep me convinced it is worth sinking so much time and effort. I simply Have To. There’s no other explanation I can give, and no other explanation I should.
As for New York – I am still only just revisiting certain parts of the city for the first time since returning, and it’s a weird punch in the face through space and time whenever I find a reminder of my former life here. A street sign or a shop awning or a particular junction will catch me, and I’ll fall. With no bang and slight whimper I am back there, back then. I am 16, 18, 21. In my turquoise blazer and my turned-up jeans, a fake flower clamped at my skull and a chip on my shoulder and that swelling suspicion that there is a future that may indeed be very bright even if I have no idea what it will look like once the lights dim to a level my eyes can take. (After all, I have been short-sighted for as long as I can remember.) I always had a head full of fiction and fingers that went painfully, pathologically dead at the slightest brush of cold, and wouldn’t wake up until they were damn well ready to and there was nothing I could do about it, yet I was still always forgetting my gloves. Standing with a man I thought might love me or a boy I knew never would, but that was fine, because I was 16, 18, 21 years old, and those ages feel impossibly young – or, rather, what lies ahead of them seems so interminably long. Home is a place where you feel safe alone, and even happier alone, taking it for what it is and knowing it will do likewise for you. The open roof over your head when you walk down the street here may turn your lungs black from a lifetime of breathing it in, but I don’t want any other air. And good luck ever seeing the stars from down here where the lights are always blazing, but the hundreds of lit-up windows I can spot from looking out my own hold just as many worlds, and at least there’s a chance they are the kind I may someday get to explore.
I don’t want to ever live anywhere other than here or London ever again. I know this place, I trust this place, I feel like I own this place whenever I walk through Grand Central, and I certainly don’t feel as tiny and meaningless as so many people claim cities make you. And I’m becoming very interested in the aspects of it that have vanished or are in the process of doing so. I won’t romanticize the Bad Old Days of “Ford to City: Drop Dead” when riding the subway alone late at night as a small woman was a risk instead of the most commonplace action available, but history is there to be chronicled, and if I am a writer then I am a storyteller and there are rich seams to mine here. Above all, I think of my mother when she was my age – at 29, nearly 30, she was getting married and leaving this city for the first time.
This is my mother’s ring from when she finished nursing school. It was one of the few sure shots you could take with your life when you came from where she did. She was 20 years old, and tiny: barely five feet tall and maybe 90 pounds soaking wet. Her Manhattan of the 1970s looked unrecognizable compared to what it is today: specifically, the East Village, Alphabet City, and the Lower East Side were drowning in drugs and violence, and she had to deal with every overdose, stabbing, and shooting that came through the emergency room doors. Nursing, too, looked a lot different in the 1970s: specifically, some idiot decided that wearing latex gloves got in the way of the nurturing role, so my mother spent most of her time with her hands soaked in stranger’s blood. And because she was so small and unintimidating in appearance, she got handed the toughest cases, the ones where patients were handcuffed to the beds with police at the doors. Every now and then she’d get followed home by somebody she’d been working on. Understandably, she quit after 10 years in order to have kids. She’d saved enough lives and wanted to make some for herself. I inherited her bony fingers and now I’m the only other person this ring fits. The metal’s not worth anything but it’s got a very satisfying weight to it. I walk the same New York streets she did, where now there’s absolutely nothing to fear, but I still like the feeling of curling up my fist with this big chunk of metal on my finger. She gave me my street smarts. I like to think that if she could be an angel of life in a place like hell, then I can take on just about anything here.
(She says don’t panic about the ebola case here. Trust her on that one.)
So, yes, I turn 30 next month. I was dreading it but then I figured I needed to do something special to acknowledge that the passing of time is not a detriment, not a failure, but just a part of who I am. The way I saw it, the best possible thing to do would be either go somewhere known and loved, or plop myself somewhere completely new and force myself to wander and figure it out. In the end I decided to do both. I’m jetting off to Copenhagen and then London. In the former, I have an old friend from the San Francisco days. In the latter, I have a trusted net of people and places. Plus, on a more practical level, I have a load of vacation time from work that I have to either use or lose by the end of the year, so why not…
I am always looking for a good story.