NYC, Goodbye!

Washington Square Park Phil Roeder


I’m writing this on the train back from New York. Maybe my last time there for a while. I came in to shoot some video at Inc., and attend a writing workshop, and spend some time with my friend Jennie who is not happy about my moving an entire continent away from her. I’m not too happy about that part of it myself.

I’m a New Yorker. I was born on that island, and from wearing lots of black to driving a ratty old car and not caring, it will always have its influence on me. When I moved to the country more than 20 years ago, it was in crisis mode, to escape from an abusive and frightening husband. Yet that crisis also brought me to my heart’s desire. I’d been thinking for years that I wanted to live in the country. That’s why, even after I was divorced and safe, I never considered going back.

As the years went by and my social circle became ever more Hudson Valley and less Manhattan, I stopped going to New York so often. After a few years, I only went down when I had to, to the ASJA conference for example. I’d find myself in Midtown, the least lovable part of Manhattan and head back to the country having taken little pleasure in my visit.

Still, saying goodbye to New York seems part of saying goodbye to the East Coast, so after the workshop, instead of taking a late train back as I usually would, I spent the night at Jennie’s. I took today as a free day even though my schedule couldn’t really afford one. She lives in Brooklyn which is a whole other borough from the Brooklyn I knew–or didn’t really know–when I lived in New York. She loves living there, and I can see why.

The only thing on my agenda was to go bra shopping. I read once that the vast majority of women can’t figure out by themselves what bra size they should wear, and I’ve found that to be true for me. So years ago I started looking for professionals to measure me and help me find bras that fit properly. Which just isn’t something you can do in Ulster County. Jennie took me to a lingerie shop in Cobble Hill where she’s bought some of her prettiest bras. It was lovely and elegant, owned by a Frenchwoman and though we only came up with one bra that I actually wanted, as much fun as something like shopping for bras can be.

Jennie and I parted regretfully and I spent my last couple of hours in town walking in the Village and sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park. The weather was perfect and New York was delightful as only perfect weather can make it. There were children playing on more creative playground equipment than I ever clambered over on in my day. Interesting dogs walked by and an acoustic jazz trio complete with upright bass performed on one of the lawns. It reminded me of being in one of my favorite parks in Paris.

I haven’t much missed New York City all these years in Woodstock. I don’t know that I’ll miss it from Seattle, although some things, such as good pizza and the way everything stops for a good argument, will probably feel odd by their absence.

Today’s been a lovely last look at the city of my birth. Goodbye, New York. You’ll always be in my blood.

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Image: Phil Roeder/Creative Commons

Does my Aching Back Mean I’m Sad to Be Leaving?



29 Days to Target Departure

My back still hurts but not as badly. Yesterday I got a (much modified) yoga class and then a massage from my friend Gillian who has a better view of how our bodies work than anyone I’ve ever met. She says I lifted something heavy and neglected to bend my legs, which I’m sure is true, but she also agrees with Bill that this bad back is partly an expression of sadness. I’m sure they’re both right. I’ve started saying, “I pulled my I-don’t-want-to-dismantle-my-house muscle.”

“You have to find a way to honor that sadness,” Gillian told me.

“I’m not sure how,” I said. I didn’t think I should talk to Bill about it. The idea that I’m sad to be leaving here is driving him crazy. Yesterday he actually proposed returning to Woodstock for the summers which is a batty idea on many levels. For starters, summers in the Pacific Northwest have almost no rain and thus almost no mosquitoes–one big reward for tolerating the dreary winters. Also I’ve always hated the idea of living in two places. The whole snowbird thing never appealed to me. I want to live one place where I can put down roots, like I’ve done here. Which I guess is the exact problem.

So I’ll say it: Leaving here is breaking my heart. Especially this house which feels so much like a friend that I’ve been known to pat its walls affectionately. When I lived here alone, I would walk from the living room into the kitchen at night thinking, “This is mine,” and feel that all was right in the world. Over the years, we’ve added things. First, the magical built-into-the-wall wood stove that looks like a fireplace but heats the whole house. Then we turned the screened-in porch into a sunroom and added a cedar-fenced vegetable garden. Then we started having the field mowed in a path where Bill walks in summer and I ski in winter. It’s slowly become the perfect house for me.

But I also see, for reasons having nothing to do with Bill, why it might be time to move on. That cross-country skiing for instance. Every year, there’s less and less of it because there’s less and less snow. I didn’t plant my garden this year because I knew I was leaving but every gardener I know who did is frustrated beyond belief because nothing’s growing well this cold, rainy summer. Except the mosquitoes, who tend to chase us indoors and made a mockery of our one-time plan to build a deck. I know the climate is changing and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, but living here for 22 years I’m actually watching it change, and that’s almost unbearable. So I know that even if I stay in place, the place as I loved it will eventually leave me.

For most of the time I’ve lived here there was a lady who lived in a large house at the top of the hill. She had many dogs, a coop full of chickens, and two sheep. Walking up that hill is my default daily exercise, and I used to love pulling up grass and feeding it to those sheep in their enclosure. Over the years they got more sedate and less inclined to meet me at the fence and then for several months I was doing other exercises and didn’t walk up the hill. When I did it again, only one sheep remained and she rose stiffly to her feet and hobbled over to meet me. After that she stopped getting up and then soon enough she was gone too.

Sometimes the house’s elderly owner would be out in the yard and we’d chat. She’d lived in that house forever. She’d planted the two towering pine trees in the front yard as saplings more than 40 years ago. But over time, I stopped seeing her outside, though there would often be the blue flicker of a television through the curtains.

About a year ago, people were carting furniture out of her house. I stopped and asked what was going on. She was in a nursing home, they told me, and not expected to live long. The house stands empty now, its chain link fence falling over in sections, nothing but ghosts of the woman and her animals who lived there. Is that better? I wonder. Live out your life in one place, leaving a sad shell behind?

Or better to roam, criss-cross the world and maybe leave nothing behind but memories? The answer, I suppose is neither: Stop thinking about a future of aging, decay, and death and live in the now which is all we really have. But I’ve never been good at living in the now. Maybe someday I’ll get better.

OK, so I’m trying to honor the sadness. “Write about it,” Gillian suggested, so now I have. Will this help my back get better? We’ll have to see.

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Image: The winter view from our bathroom window



31 Days to Target Departure

Saturday afternoon I took several weeks’ recycling to the dump. At the same time, Bill went off to the Tibetan thrift store on Route 28 with about six bags of books and another couple of bags of clothes and miscellaneous odds and ends. The idea is to clear out the things piled up in our kitchen on top of the fridge (yes we have lots of stuff on top of our fridge), on a movable cabinet, on our moveable dishwasher and on our “coffee station” table, so that these items could easily be moved for our friend Gordon to replace our kitchen floor.

Anyhow, as I carried the blue recycling bin to the car, something I’ve done thousands of times, it suddenly felt as though something in my back was all wrong. And for the past 36 hours the right side of my lower back has been in some sort of spasm that nothing seems to alleviate. Of course, my first response is to be frustrated. I’d had all sorts of plans for this weekend that included writing two columns that are overdue, repotting some bonsai that are coming with us on the trip, and working on the book proposal for my memoir as well as working with Bill to clear the kitchen for the new floor.

Yes I know it wasn’t all going to get done. I pretty much always start out with a list of things to do that doesn’t fit the allotted time, which may of course be part of my problem.

But maybe there’s something else here: When we began moving things out of the kitchen and packing up our numerous teapots, something clicked in my brain: This is really happening. We are really leaving this place. And not only that, whether I’m willing to admit it or not, my entire life is about to be completely disrupted. Maybe my back is expressing upset about this that the rest of me can’t.

Saturday I had dinner with a very good friend, maybe for the last time before we move. She asked: “What are you looking forward to most?” I realized I didn’t have a really good answer. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, though. I don’t really know what I’ll love and hate once we move because I don’t know what my life is going to look like. I’ll be starting with a blank slate, which is something I crave.

But starting with a blank slate isn’t going to be easy either. Maybe some of me is frightened too, and that’s what my back spasm is trying to tell me.

What I said to my friend was: “I’m looking forward to Bill performing almost every night.” That’s the absolute truth. And it’s why—back spasm or no back spasm—I know this move is the right choice.

Image: Bernard Goldbach via Flickr