3.31.2014

After a Breath

Things are better, now.

Everyone who murmured “baby steps” was right. And I’m taking mine, with an akimbo gait you can probably see from space. Just a colt, each shaky, awkward step skidding a micron closer to a run.

I’m starting to see the patterns; the city’s onslaught and undertow are starting to knit themselves into a balance. Take the subway: the running of the humans in this underground Pamplona is actually a dance. You lock your eyes on the middle distance and set your pace, and suddenly you’re a laser. The white beam of your trajectory crosses over and under the rainbow spectrum of your fellow travelers, and you just follow your line. The eyelash-breadth of personal space isn’t a rudeness. It’s a result of the many working as a whole. You take a stutter-step when necessary, but you keep your eyes forward, and learn to feel the graze of purses and overcoats as what they are: pieces of other people on their journeys.

Yesterday it was forty-five degrees and we wandered in the drizzle, pushing through the slippery beaded curtains of the rain. We sipped coffee and bought the fifth and sixth books of our month here, all from the same greybeard who’s starting to look happily askance at us every time we walk in. Every corporate, stuffy task in the world to accomplish but no real deadline to rein us in, we stumbled into bacon scrambles and brussel sprouts. We sat in a tea shop and figured out what it is, more or less, that I’m supposed to do with my life. We walked all over the lower part of the city, and then when it began to pelt, we retreated. Up the stairs, light a candle, bottle of wine.

One month, which is both forever and a second. I can do the subway with my eyes closed, and if I turn the wrong way on a sidestreet, I am totally at sea. I have a gym, a routine, an office, a closet, and when I turn my key in the door and walk inside, there is a secondary click of rightness in my stomach. I love small spaces. They focus you. There isn’t room for internal wandering; the force of your life pushes up against the walls so that you feel turned outward, made bigger, by necessity.

And once out: you are in everything. Isn’t it amazing, how the human mind can view the same intersection four times, five times, as a sonic boom of overwhelm, and then the sixth time you round the corner, the sick little lurch is just gone? And instead, it all looks like luck. What an incredible thing, this city. This place where any two blocks could support a perfectly serviceable little town, and yet the carpet of cookies and theaters and knishes unrolls before you so far and so long that you have to give up, charley-horsed, before you can grab its edges.

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I’ve been trying to unravel this transition, to figure out how I could be so choked up and displaced and then…fine. It is time, but it’s more than time. It’s one over-the-edge experience after another, plus the smallish rituals of your life. A stranger on the street yells at you for smiling, and you walk inside and retrieve your mail. You wake up and drink coffee, and commute into a national landmark. You call your mother while looking out over the lights of Manhattan. The spikes and smooth corners of the days settle on top of each other until you look at the topography of your life and, at some second that makes no logical sense, it is familiar enough. You recognize it as your own.

3.15.2014

Starting

I pass the cronut bakery every day on the way to the subway. Let’s start with that.

This is the part I can’t wrap my head around yet. I’m trying to latch onto something, to familiarize myself with a neighborhood, a drycleaner, the sound of my keys in the door. But then on every street, the blazing attractions of the city crop up and I am disoriented. Is this a commute or a destination? Am I on vacation or does this belong to me, now?

I haven’t really gone outside. The transition at work has been swift and heavy, and my after-work exploring has been of the backseats of yellow cabs. But even there, it creeps in, this city’s magic. I’ve been driven home each night by a Greek chorus of men with beautiful voices, from Jamaica and Puerto Rico and Charlotte and the Bronx. Every one laughs the same delighted way, when I reveal how recently I’ve come. “Well! Welcome,” they grin into the rearview mirror. “Cali-for-nia! What a change.”

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We haven’t been seeing much of each other. I’ve been padding out in the mornings before he wakes up, to go shake off my confusion at the gym. Endorphins make you happy, and happy people don’t second-guess their monumental life changes when it’s too late. But when I click our door back open (second try: remember, it goes to the left!), he’s pulling on a sweater and giving a kiss and bounding off to drink from the fire hose again. I am proud of him, of his ambition and his work ethic, and his desire to stretch his brain in unprecedented directions. And I also would love to eat a meal with him, to hear how his parallel new life has been unfolding. This is completely uncharted territory. Always, before: we were together and I was a boundless well of empathy. I can hear the scrape at the bottom now, and it terrifies me.

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The volume of the city is staggering. Not the decibels, but the sheer unfolding columns of people and their cubic output. The daily continuing is a regular-sized miracle: the piles of trash, enough on each street for a village, whisked off to oblivion by the beeping trucks that grind through our dreams. The crush of commuters piling into a subway car and leaving the platform bare, only to be replaced in a laughably short second by a doppelgänger crowd. None of it ever stops, or sleeps, or even thinks about taking a break. You take very deep breaths on the subway, and in your apartment, and you start thinking of a restaurant space more as temporary real estate than a table. This is mine, for right now.

I can sit here and take it in.

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3.4.2014

First Missive

So, it is very cold.

I was going to say, “let’s just get that out of the way,” but it is seventeen degrees here. There is no shuffling that off to the side, and no ignoring that I am once again the person who vehemently demanded to leave Boston and the cold that tried to scrape my face off. That person went home and lolled under a few palm trees and she got soft. Forgot all about how a three minute walk can make you forgo breathing, the frost slicing against your nose and challenging your need for oxygen. Forgot all about the taxi, a modern marvel. Not just the gears and transportation; it’s the shelter and the chance to collect yourself that are mind-blowing. They impart strength, in that that you are not freezing right now, and give you the grace to accept the fact that you will be, soon. That’s crucial, the ability to build up an internal well of well-being such that outside forces cannot immediately hit your core.

And yet, there is more to this NYC introduction than loss of core body temperature. Loss of dignity, for instance.

Professionally, this move was just a transfer; one office to another, one firm, no big deal. But I live inside my own head, which is one giant bubble of interpersonal trepidation, and walking in on my first day loomed pretty large.

I woke up feeling queasy at the thought of navigating the subway system for the first time during rush hour, so I hopped in a taxi. The driver deposited me in front of a concrete skyscraper, so I screwed up my courage, all “Three bucks! Two bags! One me!” Only, wait…this wasn’t the right address. So, I paced up and down the street, committing the ultimate tourist sin of looking up and meeting a lot of new friends via their passing shoulders. Back and forth. Is this it? No, now I’m on a completely different street, this can’t be right. Finally, I realized my mistake (a building tunnel connecting one street to another) and set off. Two steps in, my foot gave a little tell-tale dip; the whole heel of my left shoe had decided it wanted no part of this adventure and ripped almost completely off.

Obviously, you can’t start a new adventure without a pratfall or two. “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m the girl from LA who can’t make it in the city for 24 hours without literally falling over her own feet.” I spent the rest of the day on mock pointe, trying to be really fascinating so people wouldn’t notice what was transpiring at floor-level. Did it work? No. My next door neighbor took one look at my mangled heels and sighed, “Ah, rookie mistake.”

However. She then took me to sushi, and was kind and fortifying and told me all the office gossip. And my officemate is funny and normal and appears to not eat tuna fish sandwiches or any other unpardonable sin. And this is the view from our window. So, bring it on, New York. I can already jaywalk with the best of them, broken heels or none.

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2.25.2014

New Scents

If there ever were an experience to make you question every life choice you’ve recently made, attempting a cross country move would have to top the charts.

What are all these lurking objects in my closet, and why do I own a single one of them? What electronic device do these cords attach to, and why have they been allowed to breed into a pile of wiry, inseparable snakes? It’s a truly gross feeling, being overwhelmed by stuff. I don’t feel like a particularly indulgent consumer, but then…from whence comes this overpowering number of smallish things?

It’s my own fault. When we moved to Long Beach, I was adamant about needing a second bedroom. “For everyone to visit,” like it was this obvious and inalienable right. It hadn’t sunk in, apparently, that we were going home. When we saw our friends and our families, it would be at the drop of a hat, and when they were tired, they’d just…go back to their own apartments. In a car, not a plane.

But that second bedroom was also a terrible office. The room didn’t get a lot of light, and the IKEA coffee table we inserted as a chair wasn’t very ergonomic (since it was, in fact, just a block of wood). So, it ended up being just…space. Extra room for things to accumulate, because the closed door meant we didn’t have to deal right then. Some of that expanse I’m grateful for: all our coats and scarves from Boston could be bundled away, and there was room for a grown-up vaccuum cleaner. Some of it was less intelligently used: boxes and boxes of wedding memorabilia and poorly filed papers and oh Lord, I am drowning.

We are not good with nostalgia; we already plan where we’ll live in LA after we move back from New York. Keeping things around feels like a weight, and a frustrating one. Committing to this move, throwing ourselves across the country into a new adventure…it necessitates lightness. A spirit for adventure is weighted down by things; stumbling over errant Frisbees and ancient birthday cards scrapes the gleam off the new.

And I obviously see what I’m doing here–preparing myself to love a shoebox by demonizing California space we didn’t need. I don’t care. The movers have come and gone, and yesterday I cleaned up the packing tape rubble, left the keys inside and drove away. It was spitefully gorgeous outside, the ocean audibly crashing and the air heavy with salt. It’s alright. We’ll never get this apartment again, never stand on that deck and look out over an almost Morrocan rooftop jumble with palms shooting up in between. We’ll be standing on a fire escape instead. We’ll smell roasting chestnuts and the iron of bridges and the sweat and perfume of a thousand people who all decided to see what might happen. That tapestry is worth this trade. One hundred times over, I would give up what I’ve built so far to see how the new pieces might fit together.
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2.11.2014

Sweet Baby James

A few weeks ago, we drove up to Modesto to “see Slentz and Salpy” but actually to meet their new baby. How do new parents feel about this, I wonder? Are you delighted that I am so into your kid, or do you feel attention-deprived? I think the majority answer seems to be “sleep deprivation is blocking all my other sensors, here, hold this child while I go lie down for five hours.”

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Obviously, he was amazing. This guy was the cuddliest human I have ever had the privilege of trying not to kill, which was not easy when he couldn’t hold up his own head but wanted to SPRAWL while napping. How do babies divide their own bodies into unaffiliated sections and then sleep that hard? It makes no sense and is terrifying. Put your leg in the same hemisphere as your other leg and let me hold you in peace.

Swanson lives nearby, so it was a slightly more testosterone-driven atmosphere than your average baby party, but James was clearly into it. (This picture is simultaneously cute and makes me want to grab him so that he isn’t sent to law school by osmosis. Though obviously me removing him helps not at all. And his mother is an attorney also. One of us needs to leave and open a bakery, Salpy.)

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We’re now firmly in the life stage where some of our male friends are frequently sending us articles on the benefits of not having children, so as to keep Friendfest alive for several more years. First of all, Friendfest will survive until we are 80 million years old, because having children will (I assume) give us an even greater motivation to hole up together for a weekend. (Is this not the purpose of grandparents?) Secondly, I think you doth protest too much, Sir. I see you being all delighted .

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 And one cannot blame him. We’ll be waiting on the whole “making humans” thing for a while, but I certainly appreciate those who have gone before me. It’s such a comfort to know that when we do decide to embark on this completely life-altering adventure, I can turn to women whom I love and trust. They don’t pretend any of it is easy, and that honesty makes the idea more approachable. If you go in with your eyes open, anticipating the litany of scary and sticky obstacles, I think you feel the joy even more. It’s not tempered, because it’s not forced to mix with the stressors you knew would be present. And I can only imagine what that joy must be like.

2.9.2014

We Have a Home

There’s a great proverb (origin lost in my muddled mind) that goes: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

It’s always true. It’s ridiculous how always true it is. I didn’t plan to pull up my stakes and throw them across the country, and I sure didn’t plan to have them land in the West Village. But…they did.

After all the back and forth about the merits of mellow Brooklyn versus the rush of Chelsea, and the tramping upstairs to apartment after apartment after apartment….our broker was like, “Let’s go see this place in the Village, it came on the market yesterday.” And we looked askance at each other, because the West Village is like the most expensive place in the Universe but whatever, we were already almost there. And it was reallyverysmall, but charming. And…several hundred dollars cheaper than anything else we had seen. During the entire trip. Including everything in Brooklyn. Because of a hole in the space-time continuum? And we loved it.

I’ll write a longer post later about everything I’ve learned about apartment hunting in NYC this week (which probably isn’t all that much, but it sure seems like an awakening to me). For now, we’re just thrilled that we actually found something that we like. We signed the lease, the shoebox is ours, and I only have mild-to-moderate feelings of what am I doing Oh God this is real now.

I’m excited. The apartment is probably slightly smaller (square-footage-wise) than our place in Beacon Hill, but I think we can do it. We pushed through a lot in that tiny apartment: we studied for the Bar in the humid weight of summer with bags of frozen peas on our heads, and our friends slept on an air mattress that spanned the entire width of our living room. This place will be no different. Again, we’ll lug our groceries up four flights of stairs. (I think I’m understanding why the rent was such a deal, now.) I’ll frustrate myself, tripping over things that have no place, and then walk outside and do a the-hills-are-alive twirl at all the culture within stumbling distance.

This is the first time we’ll have normal relationship distance, not spending our days at the same school or office building. When we pick up our wine glasses at night and ask, “How was your day?” it won’t be a pleasantry. We actually won’t know the answer. And the branching out that we’re finally doing will make the tiny home seem right, I think. Go a little farther during the day, and you want to pull back even closer at night.

(Obviously, still feel free to send along any and all resources and tips on living in a mouse-sized apartment. Sans mice.)

(I hope. Oh God.)

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2.2.2014

Debate

So, the first bit of our apartment hunting trip has been a major success. I think? The very first place was…perfect. As in, what-am-I-missing good. Was someone murdered in a closet? What is going on here? I don’t even really want to talk about it, because obviously that will jinx the entire thing and it’ll be rented out from under us before I’ve even typed this out. But I court danger, so there you go.

We’re applying for it, but it’s in Brooklyn Heights and we’ve been pinging back and forth between whether we want to be IN Manhattan (and thrust ourselves into the rush) or revel in the neighborhoodiness of Brooklyn. We go out a lot, but strollers and brownstones are our collective love language. (Clarification: we will not be pushing the stroller anytime soon. I just like what they do for the local color.)

So (currently) the neighborhoods in the fight against Brooklyn are Chelsea and the Upper West Side. The former has Murray’s. The latter has Levain. It might seem strange to characterize neighborhoods based on bagels and cookies (respectively) if one is paleo, and…it is. But I am powerless. Because look.

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Levain isnt any easier to deal with. It harbors the best cookies in the world, but be aware that you’re going to scale the heights and plumb the depths of human achievement in the space of 20 cubic feet. Walking down the stairs into the bakery feels like entering the bowels of heaven, if that could be a thing. Racks on racks on racks of cookies cooling, and a butter-and-sugar smell that lingers on your clothes like benevolent cigarettes. How wonderful, you think, that this little shop has seen so much success, that Yelp and word of mouth have combined to make these transcendent cookies such an attraction. So you hand over your four dollars, mostly cheerfully, because the cookie is the size of a small steak and can be easily shared with another adult or two. But then you turn to fight your way back up the staircase, trying to regain the street, and the strangest phenomenon occurs: people you approach forget that your matter cannot pass through their matter. In the excitement of getting downstairs, they stand two abreast on the steps, holding hands and debating the merits of chocolate and chocolate chip. Pro tip: save your cookie until you get outside. Holding it in your hot little hands will give you the tangible promise of salvation you’ll need to say “Excuse me” nicely to each confused individual.

Anyway. If you live in NYC, visit a lot, or just generally have opinions, please share. How do you feel about being all up in vs. right outside of the hustle of things?

2.1.2014

Landed

The last stretch has been a blur. I hosted a bridal shower for my wonderful Dani, and we drove up to Modesto to visit Slentz and Salpy and meet their tiny swaddled baby, who let me hold him basically the entire 36 hours we were there, and now M and I both have wicked baby fever, which is a problem for people who just landed in New York and now are going to run around looking at apartments. I want to break that run-on sentence into at least two blog posts, because both were hugely important events (to me, maybe not in the cosmic sense) but right now I am so hyped on being in New York that I can’t concentrate on anything else.

Ok fine, one baby picture.

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I know. Why are all my friends having such cute babies? We’re like 5/5 now, and my defenses are slipping. But more on this later.

Because New York! We arrived last night, and both immediately felt like we’d “come back.” Not “come home,” because obviously this is not our home (yet). But walking around Brooklyn in the dark and the mostly melted snow was just a sensory shot of Beacon Hill straight to the cortex. Even the carpet on the creaky stairs in the apartment building where we’re staying…we’ve been here before. And we loved it. And now we’re diving in for East Coast Life: Part 2 and it’s going to be so totally fun except apparently a thing exists called “apartment centipedes?” We’ll address this later, I guess. Right now we’re just concentrating on soaking it all in and remembering how to live mostly in boots. (Even if M has yet to get into the groove of wearing a jacket or scarf, because apparently he’s relying on his sheer testosterone to shield him from Weather. Tiny swaddled baby steps.)

1.21.2014

Overflow

This past three day stretch was what weekends want to be when they grow up. I’m exhausted and happy and feel like someone took my “Friend Bonding” bucket when I wasn’t looking and filled it all the way up. Over the brim. Maybe they even switched it out for a bigger bucket.

Lauren’s bridal shower was on Saturday, so Friday night brought Ana to town. We took her for sushi and she gave us kisses: your basic wolfpack transaction.

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We ate our way through an enormous boat and then stayed up too late playing some high-tech version of charades. There actually is an app for everything; I now hold in reserve a video of the almost-groom doing “Tickle Me Elmo.” You know, in case depression ever strikes particularly hard or he tries to go into politics.

Lauren’s shower was beautiful, which is fairly predictable, because so is she and we all love her squills. (Even if she did pick the wrong toilet paper bride winner. We all make mistakes.)

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Our bride swanned through the whole thing wonderfully, daintily drinking mimosas and opening all her presents with different Grateful Surprise faces.

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And then she beat everyone senseless in the following ridiculous game: hold a clothespin between your knees and hop/jump/jerkily waddle across a few yards. Attempt to drop the pin into either a plastic cup (2 points) or a tiny paper plate (1). Use all feelings of awkwardness to fuel the deepest squats you’ve ever done in heels. Repeat.

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Oh and she also made gluten-free cake pops that were genuinely one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. As in: I ate one and then Smash asked me to hold another one while she took a picture of it. And then when I didn’t eat it, I looked around for my medal of valor.

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On Sunday we drank coffee around my table until heading off to a “trial” class at our local barre studio. “An advanced workout,” they said. “For people with dance backgrounds,” they said. And then we got there and part of the warmup instructions were to scout out your nearest exit…you know, in case the five-hundredth leg lift made you misplace your breakfast. We were complete noodles for the rest of the day, but we made. it. through! So we were proud, fulfilled noodles. Gratified spaghetti, if you will (or in case you were looking for a band name).

Later that night, we meandered over to KTown to follow up on Caitlin’s promise of Polenta Dinner. Turns out it was a completely sweet going away party.

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Here’s the thing about going-away parties: they are the worst. They remind you how sweet your friends are, and make you question your choices. Why exactly are we moving away from people with these smiles…

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…who sit you down at tables that look like this?

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Oh right, New York. Well, maybe just for a second. (Look at the bottom; it’s like they know I’m planning to go full Sopranos as soon as we touch down at JFK.)

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I just couldn’t be more grateful or excited or love these jokers any more. Pumped for weddings, tingly about moving, swoony about friendships, terrified of moving. In case you are looking for your emotions, I have all of them. Sorry.

(Most photos by Broersma Photography)

1.12.2014

New Morning

So, we’re leaving soon. It feels so good to be out of the closet about it, to be open about all the fears and thrills that are nested inside this kind of life change. Everyone’s been so supportive, so encouraging, and I’m bolstered now. I mean, I’m still completely “wait, what?”-ing about moving our whole life 3,000 miles to the right, but I’m also harboring more of a quiet calm.

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A few mornings ago, I took a walk with one of my oldest friends on the beach that’s been our locus for the past few years. It was calm and sort of cold, and I held her coffee while she fiddled with the flash on the camera that just refuses to cooperate. She couldn’t coax it up, and we couldn’t find a corner dark enough for the camera to let go on its own.

Eventually I just opened my jacket and she stuck the whole thing into the shadowy recesses under my arm. Click, click. No release, no dice. I zipped back up and she remembered just to turn it off and then on again. We’d tried the silliest thing; we moved on to the most obvious.

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She’s starting a photography business soon, and I’m just so proud of her. I’m so proud of all my people and the fledgling adulthoods we’ve all started stacking up. There’s a sort of cement here, and I’m not afraid to leave and lose my place in line.

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 Here’s what I’ve cobbled together as an understanding, so far: whatever measure you are afraid of anything, you have to be that same amount of grateful, plus a little more. We leapfrog from one stage to another, and we’re never ready, because what does that even mean? That’s not a real thing. The real thing, the natural order of things, is choppier. It’s a series of silly-before-obvious, of loving but still leaving. It’s an acceptance of the draft that rushes in when we open ourselves.

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