Notes, Continued, On Not Living In New York

It often happens, and is thus often remarked, that the wisdom people give you doesn’t resonate until long after it’s given.

So it happened that yesterday, I walked the streets in Park Slope, felt fond feelings toward the brownstone and tree-lined streets (quiet, as they blessedly, rarely were), and remembered something a colleague once said to me about five years ago, as she and I strolled the University of New Mexico campus.

“New York,” she said, “is a great place to visit.”

I (and likely, you) know that my attitudes toward this city have swung and swung like a cheap amusement park ride for the duration of the thirteen (golly!) years since I left for college: consistently, quickly, and not rarely inducing nausea.

So that when she said that to me, my gut reaction was something along the lines of: sure, that’s fine for you, you being a person who did not grow up in New York and therefore can feel adequate without living there. Or, to put it another way, that’s fine for you, you being an inferior person.

Flash forward: today, and all of the last days that I have spent in this city (outside those moments when I have been cursing crowds or humidity and clutching my niece like the world depended on it) I have thought to myself—that woman was right.

Friends, feel free to feel proud. Because I am pretty sure this trip marks the very first time that I have come to New York with zero desire to move back, and zero guilt about that feeling.

Okay. Obviously that’s not totally true. If it were totally true, than I wouldn’t feel compelled to qualify. Which, of course, I do.

So: I still would like to think that there will come a time in the relatively near future when New York will feel, both financially and emotionally, like a plausible and appealing option.

But, among the levels of clarity that have recently, thankfully emerged, one is this: New York is not the place for me right now.

This clarity, honestly, has emerged over time. Driving it along have been a couple of other pearls from writerly types: the editor who, over lunch in the West Village, hurriedly advised that she tells all young writers to get out of the city—until, she said, they become Jonathan Franzen or Zadie Smith. (Moments, I’m sure.) Too much going on, she said, and too easy for the competition to psych you out. And the grad school professor who, over coffee in Albuquerque, nodded his head and cautiously observed that I might have a choice: between being a writer and living in New York.

At the time I let his words sink in about as much as a suntan. I was having fun in New York. Also, I didn’t know where else to go.

*

“I don’t know how people do it.”

I was chatting with an acquaintance this past weekend at a Greenpoint wedding (one that managed to be equal parts rustic, Jewish and awesome): a woman who grew up in Chicago, and as of recently, resides, happily, in Brooklyn.

We were commiserating about the hardship of living in the place you’re from: how you can’t seem to escape the weight of those adolescent insecurities, those unshakeable family roles. She shared how she always makes a point of keeping a bit of cash on her at all times, but when she goes home, it somehow disappears.

I told her how despite being the most reliably punctual person I know, I managed to be late the last time I was dispatched to pick up my niece from school (imagine me + 5th Avenue in Park Slope + running like an escaped wildcat): for both of us, just as we were trying to prove to our relatives that we are not the flakey, incapable youngest children we know they think we are, we managed to mess up.

“Maybe someday we’ll be able to handle it,” I said to her as we took a pause from the dance party and leaned against a wood pillar.

“No,” she shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

It doesn’t matter how our families see us, or the people we went to high school with, or anyone else we associate with these sites of our upbringing. What matters is how yoked we are to the way we think they do—and how deeply it penetrates the way we see ourselves.

It’s a handicap that may, someday, be worth working against. But for now, I am content to accept it. And to enjoy coming to New York, as that grad school colleague suggested, as a great place to visit.

Which, in case you didn’t know, is awesome! (Probably it would be more awesome if I didn’t have to cram in time with twelve close relatives and about as many close friends…) But anyway. Still! There are reasons  reasons I probably don’t need to tell you (Just in case: The energy! The art! The brilliant, ambitious, attractive people!), why people put up with the crowds and the lines and the walkups and the astronomical rents.

Things, I must tell you, that I find much easier to enjoy these days in small doses that I have no (present) intention of making big.

On New Love, New York Pizza, and Saying Farewell For Now

“I know you didn’t get upset about pizza. So, what were you really upset about?”

I furrowed my brow. Thought for a second. And looked up at N.

“Um, pizza?”

As my therapist was quick to note (Therapist: “You look shocked.” Me: “I am! Isn’t it shocking?” Therapist: “Well, kind of.”), there are many things that distinguish my relationship with N from those I’ve had previously.

Perhaps most notably, there is the fact that he really, really likes me. When he visited New York this past weekend, he even brought my parents gifts.

“You really don’t need to do that,” I tried to assure him when he texted a photo of a cheese plate. (Would your mom like this?)

“I want to,” he said. “Besides, I’m sleeping with their daughter. Isn’t it the least I can do?”

“Honey,” I replied, gentle. “I have slept with a lot of other men. Pretty sure none of them felt they owed my mother pottery for the privilege.”

Unmoved, he bought her a scarf.

One of the reasons N and I like each other is that we tend to argue. About issues, I mean: our nightly video chats have involved heated debate over things like an Obesity Tax and Capital punishment; the environmental impact of locavorism and gun laws.

But our most personal fight to date, abetted by whiskey, Fernet Branca, and four consecutive days of meeting Everyone I Love, took place over a single, folded slice of Joe’s Pizza.

Or, rather, the fact that N was not impressed.

How can you not like this pizza?” I pleaded.

“It’s not that I don’t like it,” he explained. “I just don’t think it’s that different than other pizza.”

I was beside myself, careening from one desperate, ineffective persuasion attempt to the next: New York pizza is different. It’s the best. This is the most superior slice in the city. How could he not see the difference?

In the morning, I grasped to explain my response.

“I met a ton of friends and family and loved all of them,” he reasoned. “And you’re really upset that I didn’t like a certain food?”

“I know,” I nodded, huddled next to him on a soggy 6 train. “It’s a little crazy.”

Part of it, I explained, was the implication that my Pizza Passion is an outgrowth of New York Elitism: a condition I not only battle against, but find frequent fault with others for buying into. Part of it was that I was overwhelmed. Part of it was that he was leaving. Part of it was that I was drunk.

But, also, really, it was about pizza: when you love someone, you want them to love the same things you do–people and places, books and movies, forms of intellectual debate. And, yes, food items.

Granted, certain of those categories are more important than others. Life with a partner who hates my mother might be a tad more challenging than life with someone who doesn’t, also, require a late-night stop at Joe’s on Fifth. Particularly if, as I’m pretty sure is the case for N, they’re willing to come along, and perhaps hand me a napkin.

But the Pizza Episode also felt symptomatic of one of my life’s present themes: jumping into the Big Things, while fretting, endlessly, over those that seem Incredibly Small.

It took me a matter of weeks, for example, to decide on, yet another, major move. But whether to go to a Zumba class at 12:00 on Lafayette or 1:15 at East 34th Street? I practically lost my shit.

“It makes sense,” Therapist sagely said. “You’ve got to deal with the big stuff some way. So it’s going to come out in the little.”

Allow me one final non-sequitur to inform you of another recent, and rather impulsively made decision: I’ve decided, for now, to stop blogging.

There are a few reasons why. For one, writing about relationships is much more challenging when you’re actually in one. For another, focusing is also hard–and, as you know, for the past year, I’ve been making variously aggressive attempts to focus on a book manuscript. Finally, in solidarity with other Writers Who Ought To Get Paid for What We Do, it seems prudent to at least try placing my essays in venues–unlike this one–where money changes hands.

I don’t want to call it quits forever. I love having this space, I love that you visit it, and the idea of leaving it completely is sad. But I think, for now at least, a Farewell For Now makes sense.

I’ll keep the site up–and post news about other publications as it, hopefully, comes.

Thanks, always, for reading. Be in touch. And see you, somewhere, soon.

On Feeling Funky, Giving Up Control, Talking and Not

“This is not an okay time to be in a funk.”

A was right: there had never been a less acceptable moment for malaise. It was a sunny, warmish Saturday in New York, we had just emerged from the most joyously sweaty reggae dance class that is my new obsession, I was soon headed to dinner and celebration with eight of my best college gals; Obama was still President and the Knicks had won six straight; I had no business being down.

A swung her arm around my shoulder. “Let’s just sort this out.”

I took a couple of the deep breaths that are my trademark, paternally inherited Stress Tic, and started to talk.

The day before I’d spent a lovely, equally sunny afternoon with Ari, and we’d had something of A Talk; at first it left me feeling positive about things, about myself, about him–until, suddenly, I didn’t. Suddenly, I realized, I wasn’t sure where we stood or how I or he felt. Suddenly, I realized, I wasn’t sure whether we should keep talking during my imminent five weeks out of town; whether we’d keep trying when I got back.

“But it isn’t what I’m feeling about him,” I explained to A. “It’s that I’m letting myself feel anything at all.”

*

“If you can not trip out about it, sure.”

A few weeks ago, when I talked on the phone with that astrologist, I beseeched her for practical advice: what I should be when I grow up, where I should live, whether I should keep seeing Ari or not.

“If you can spend time with him and just enjoy it, great,” she instructed. “But if it’s gonna cause you more stress than fun, forget it. So, can you not trip out?”

Pause.

“Um…” I I stared at the rug on the living room floor, considering paisley and the gap between what I wanted to say and truth.

“Well, not really…” I said. “But I can try!”

She chuckled, and went back to forbidding me from pursuing Social Work.

A few days later Ari and I stood on the subway platform at Union Square, following an art film and Chinese dinner. (Between such dates with a Jewish guy and runs along the East River, I basically live in 1970s Woody Allen.)

“I just…” He was starting to Talk–I could feel it.

“How about we don’t?” I said.

What I was telling him was that I didn’t want to talk about “us,” but what I was telling myself was that I didn’t want to worry about it: I had determined to take those words to heart–to not “trip out,” to just enjoy my time with him and not spend energy contemplating our status or our future. I’d determined to chill out.

And for a few weeks, I did. I stopped (mostly) narrating every development to my girlfriends. I stopped reading about our astrological compatability online. I stopped obsessing about how much he liked me–besides, how much did I even like him?

I set aside the questions.

But with a week until my (temporary) departure, I  no longer could.

And at first, I felt like talking about things was the right choice. Until, the next day, walking with A after dance class, I wasn’t. I had done so well, I told her, at “not tripping out.” I had done so well at pulling back, feeling detached, withholding energy.

“I should be thinking about my book right now,” I whined. (A sentence, by the way, that grips me with a whole other cliched brand of anxiety–really, I’m someone who has to aggressively claim mental space for ‘my art’? Ugh.)  ”And instead I’m using up energy feeling angsty about this?”

“You’re beating yourself up,” A chided.

“I know,” I replied. “That’s the point.”

She shook her head. “You’re not allowed to do that. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling.”

We do this. We decide how it is we’re “supposed” to feel–about a person, about a breakup, about a loss or a change–and we chide ourselves when what comes up doesn’t match.

The whole point of “not tripping out” was to relinquish control–and I’d managed to do just the opposite. I wanted to control how I felt about Ari, when, of course, there was no way I could. We don’t summon emotions; we manage them.

“What is going to get you out of this funk?” A asked. “Coffee? Kombucha? Walking?”

I pondered. “I could go for some Earl Gray with soy… and, yeah, a walk.”

“Done.”

We marched to the closest coffee shop. We strolled to Carroll Gardens. I felt better. But not totally.

It wasn’t the best moment to feel sad, I realized, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t .

(Not) Fucked In Park Slope

This morning, fighting my way through a crowd of dogs, toddlers and overpriced cherries at the Grand Army Plaza Farmers Market, I turned to my new guy (gay) friend G and said: “I’m not sure I can leave my house in this neighborhood on the weekends.”

He looked back me sympathetically. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s intense.”

And then, after we’d parted ways few blocks later–swamped in a similar mob on 7th Avenue–I thought to myself: “Maybe I should rename my blog ‘Single in Park Slope’!”

And then: “No, cause if I have ‘single’ in the title, people might expect me to write about ‘single’ things like meeting men and going on dates.”

Next: “Well, there is ‘dating’ in the title now, and there ain’t much of that going on…”

And then I stopped thinking critically and resumed my reflexive, irrational hatred toward the variously faded canvas grocery bags obstructing my path.

So, Park Slope. You’ve likely heard the stereotype: streets saturated with straight young families, grouchy lesbians and eccentric co-op members. The place is such an infamous punchline, one hesitates to go anywhere near the same tired tropes. (Besides: there are others, with bigger audiences, who do it better.)

But then, one moves here. And realizes one cannot sit by one’s window between the hours of two and four lest one become deaf from all the labored cries of “Come to mommy!“; regularly finds oneself the only human not breast-feeding in one’s favorite coffee shop; checking not to see whether an attractive man has a wedding ring–he does–but whether his wife is as good-looking as him because if no, maybe they’ll divorce sooner than later. (Not that one is petty or jealous or, you know, cares.)

And: one realizes, sometimes, the reality is worse than the cliche.

Last week, my friend A–also single, and living in Manhattan–came to join me for a writing/work date at my local spot. We’d been there no more than ten minutes when an extremely attractive guy walked in: tall, dark and handsome–tousled brown hair, light eyes, worn black t-shirt and jeans. Heads turned.

“Hey!” The cute blonde barista cried out as the customer slid off his sunglasses and approached the counter, oozing appeal. “Congratulations! How’s the new baby doing?”

A and I locked eyes. “I can never come back here again,” she sighed, burying her head in her hands.

It can be, to put it mildly, a little much.

But there are plusses to my current living situation: I’m right next to Prospect Park. About eight blocks between two of my brothers and their families. Fifteen minutes from my parents. And, you know, the whole living rent-free (temporarily, don’t kill me) thing in an area that, if a bit frustrating in certain ways, is also extremely beautiful–with tree-lined streets, gorgeous brick brownstones, and extensive, international take-out options. I got it pretty friggin’ good: to complain, in my situation, would not be very cute.

But hey, who’s trying to look cute these days? (A lot of people around here–let me tell you. The other day I saw a group of moms in a circle in the park, doing synchronized squats beside their strollers and push-ups on picnic tables, and wondered sincerely whether they had been planted there for the sole purpose of making me vomit in my mouth.)

Anyhow. I’m not complaining. I feel like I’m giving Michelle Williams a serious run for her money in the Most Charmed Girl in Kings County department. (I say that only, by the way, because she’s dating Jason Segal–word on the Brownstone Brooklyn street is that she’s not very nice.)

Besides, I’m not even trying to date right now. What do I care if all the hot guys are taken? And kids? I don’t have anything against them. Sometimes they pet my dog and say unexpectedly comic things. And that’s cute. Someday, probably, I’ll want a couple of my own.

Just not, unfortunately, any time soon. Though, as the local mothers will tell you, it’s never too early to start scheming them into P.S. 321!

Okay. I may have to move.

The End of the Twenties: An Ode

During one of the multiple family dinners out that I demanded during my extended visit home for Thanksgiving, one of my sisters-in-law, D, made an enthusiastic announcement: that, soon, she is going to turn thirty.

I’m not being smug with the word “enthusiastic.” It’s an accurate description of her tone: she said it with excitement, enthusiasm, eagerness. (Alll sorts of positive adjectives that begin with the letter E!)

This surprised some of those seated around the (awkwardly oversized) table where we were busy devouring mediocre plates of Italian food at a new place in Park Slope–my parents and two present brothers.

“Really?” They marveled. “You sound so unfazed!”

The two younger women, though–my other sister-in-law, F, and me–both nodded in (eager) agreement as D, gesturing wildly above her spinach-covered pizza, explained herself.

“I’m so done with my twenties!” she crowed. “They have been awful!”

F, now forty, is actually the only person to ever warn me about this–years ago, taking a jog around Prospect Park: “No one ever tells you,” she said, “but your twenties are actually really hard. You don’t know what you’re doing with your life, everything is complicated, ugh, it’s terrible. My thirties have been much better.”

This seems contrary to just about all of cultural lore. Growing up, the only thing I thought sexier than the teenagers on Beverly Hills 90210 were the twentysomethings on The Real World: being in your twenties seemed to be about being beautiful and glamorous, working minimally and drinking maximally, walking around big cities with a fashionable haircut, leather boots and the distinct stride of a person who is absolutely satisfied.

Now that I’m on the far, northern side of those years, I know just how much the reality differs from that fabulous image. Being in your twenties means figuring yourself out. Endlessly. Working a lot of the time. Getting increasingly bad hangovers. Still struggling on a daily basis to look presentable. Not knowing anything about your future, and realizing that as years pass you know even less.

Sure: I feel more confident, and certainly more certain about my passions than I did in college. But that’s pretty much where it ends.

After dinner that night, I snuggled with my seven year old niece as she fell asleep. (Sorry, this is too adorable for me to keep to myself: my niece requires two adults to put her to sleep, one to read stories and then one to spoon with her as she sucks the thumb of her left hand and reaches around with her right to tug on your earlobe. Not kidding.)

So yeah, that alone could have made me cry. But what really sparked it, I think, basically, was that I’m in my twenties.

Someone who I’ve talked to in recent days, I can’t remember who (it could have been my mother, but it also could have been the cute guy from Oklahoma I sat next to on the plane yesterday–you know me, I’m an equal opportunity sharer), tried to convince me that this point in my life is really so exciting! “There’s so much possibility!” Mom/plane guy assured.

I get that. I get that I’m still young, that I’m extremely privileged in many ways, that I’m lucky to have at least one project demanding a serious amount of focus and mental space. (You know, that book thing I said I wouldn’t talk about.) But I am also just exhausted from so many years of being uncertain about so much. That elusive troika: where I’m gonna be, what I’m gonna be doing (books don’t pay the gas bill, much less rent), and who I’m gonna be with.

Spooning with my niece in her bedroom the other night, I glanced around her room and marveled at the gorgeous stillness of her life: wooden horses, porcelain cats, stuffed pandas; peaceful cuddling with the nearest available earlobe. I don’t wish that I was still seven: free will is kind of nice. But I do long for a time when I will stop feeling so angsty, so searchy, so preoccupied with what’s next. For a time when I’ll find it easier to just sit still.

I doubt turning thirty will make all that, magically, stop. But might as well keep hope alive: I’ve got two years left, and I kind of like the idea that I won’t be terribly sad when they’re done.