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Let it All Go

13 Sep
Street Knowledge photo by Lisa Kolanowski

Street Knowledge photo by Lisa Kolanowski


I didn’t know David Foster Wallace. Aside from his insightful commencement speech, This is Water, I didn’t know much about his career, his writing, or his lifelong struggle with depression. Yet, on the seventh anniversary of his death, I found myself mourning him in a way that seemed inexplicably personal given the fact that we were complete strangers.

I chalked it up to having picked up my reserved copy of The David Foster Wallace Reader from the library and started, not at the beginning, but three-quarters of the way through the massive tome with his teaching syllabi. This left me feeling nostalgic because, as a composition instructor who has witnessed the trans-formative power of writing, I knew exactly what had gone into crafting those deeply personal pieces of administrative ephemera.

I nodded as I read his description of English 170R and the various course requirements and grading standards. The best teachers strive to create syllabi that not only provide substantial structure, but also give students the ability to exercise freewill and make mistakes. It’s a tough job because, as a teacher, you also have to anticipate the loopholes and be one step ahead of those students who might try to outwit the system. I burst out laughing when I read Wallace’s footnote warning about what constitutes college-level writing, which states, “Written work with excessive typos, misspellings, or basic errors in usage/grammar will not be accepted for credit. At the very least, you’ll have to redo the work and incur a penalty. If you believe this is just the usual start-of-the-term-saber-rattling, be advised that some of the students in this course have had me as an instructor before—ask them whether I’m serious” (611).

When in doubt, leverage your past history to ensure compliance—especially if you have witnesses.

There’s a tenderness in Wallace’s syllabi; a kind of vulnerability that all of the best teachers offer their students (even when they’re desperately trying to be hard asses). It stems from the fact that all the most creative teachers have a healthy respect for rules and, yet, also take great joy in casting them aside once learned.  These teachers walk the wire and invite students to stroll along with them; safety net at the ready.

As I moved on in the anthology and read more of his work, I was struck by how deeply affected Wallace was by everything around him, and how much researching, learning and thinking he must have done to process all of the information he took in before he turned it into cogent, yet seemingly conflicted analyses of tennis, state fairs, and lobsters. Wallace doesn’t openly label things as good or bad, right or wrong, rather he gently leads the reader toward his thesis until they are uncomfortably unable to look away from the reality of what’s been pulled apart and laid before them (the best example of this is his essay “Consider the Lobster”).

I began considering that maybe a teacher’s love for their students isn’t that different from a writer’s love for their readers–and maybe simply for humanity, in general. I recalled a Wallace quote I’d read (while browsing Maria Popova’s brilliant Brain Pickings website) in which he discussed the desperate need for vulnerability in art:

The reader walks away from real art heavier than she came to it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers. What’s poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it makes this so scary to try to carry out. Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you look banal or melodramatic or naive or unhip or sappy, and to ask the reader really to feel something. To be willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. Even now I’m scared about how sappy this’ll look in print, saying this. And the effort actually to do it, not just talk about it, requires a kind of courage I don’t seem to have yet. … Maybe it’s as simple as trying to make the writing more generous and less ego-driven.”

And suddenly it became clear as to why I was mourning the death of a man I’d never met.

We are currently living in a time in which fear (and loathing) drives a great deal of expression, and those who are truly willing to take risks and make themselves vulnerable—in any arena—are often attacked, ridiculed and written off as naive and/or unrealistic. Yet despite attempts to suppress these voices, those who are intent on finding ways to remind us that we are all deeply connected, refuse to be silenced.

I mourn the death of David Foster Wallace because, as I struggle to create a world that reflects more kindness, understanding, and human connections, his silence is deafening.



Dream Again

28 Aug
Guts Over Fear - Photo by Lisa Kolanowski

Guts Over Fear – Photo by Lisa Kolanowski

A few days ago, my mother confirmed my status as a life-long optimist when she told me that, as a toddler, my standard response to the question “How are you, Mary Alice?” was always an enthusiastic, “I’m too too happy!”

For those who know me, this probably does not come as any big surprise.  I firmly believe that joy comes out of sorrow and that this perspective is a choice. Yet I think that, at times, my optimism has the tendency to be interpreted as naivete or downright Pollyanna-ish.

And I understand why.

In a world where so much pain, suffering, injustice, violence, and hatred occurs on a daily basis, it is incredibly difficult to maintain any kind of optimism or hope that anything can change.  My optimism doesn’t deny or ignore all of this, instead every day, I make the choice to actively seek out and acknowledge the many reasons to feel hopeful about the possibility of change.

This week I read Jorie Ella’s piece “Let’s Keep it Real: The ALS Bucket Challenge is an Embarrassment” and then I read Amy Phillips’ “I Don’t Care if You Think it’s a Gimmick: Please, Please Keep Dumping Ice on Your Heads” — and I felt hopeful.

Whether the challenge is deemed useless or useful is a matter of perspective, but the one thing that has become clear is that the Ice Bucket Challenge is inspiring strong reactions and pushing people to engage in discussions that extend far beyond ALS.

People like my beautiful friend, Courtney, whose strong, brilliant father has been stolen from her by this horrible disease, have said, “It makes me feel like the world is behind me!”

And maybe that’s enough to make it worthwhile.

Other people have opposed the challenge because they view it as a shameful waste of water, ALS as a disease that disproportionally affects middle-aged white males, and the social media frenzy surrounding the challenge as a colossal waste of time and is distracting people from the real issues like the war in Gaza, the outbreak of Ebola in Africa, racial and socio-economic injustice in Ferguson, the militarization of police forces in the US, the failure of the US educational system, and countless other issues that deserve attention.  People are being criticized for dumping buckets of water on themselves before donating to ALS research, but those who oppose this waste of water have extended the discussion to include the global need for clean drinking water and conservation efforts, whlie others have found creative ways to participate in the challenge without wasting water.

But here’s the thing…

Everywhere I look, people are engaging in conversations!  Conversations that include links to alternate perspectives, and questioning of ideologies.  Conversations that involve voices from around the globe.  Conversations that often become heated, but attempt to maintain (for the most part) a certain level of respect.

It’s not that I think people should avoid disagreements or that they shouldn’t express their outrage over the ongoing violence and injustice; it’s just that I don’t see how problems are ever going to be solved unless people feel like they’re being heard.  And my experience in classrooms has taught me that once people feel like they matter – like their voice is being heard – anything is possible.

It’s this possibility, and the small, every-day miracles, that propel me forward and keep my optimism alive.

And if my optimism is what makes a difference to even one person, then “I’m too too happy” to be one of the millions who continue to strive to be a small part of the change they want to see in the world.



Saudade Vem

11 Sep

9/11 Lights - photo by DMT

I’ve been feeling saudade lately.

A few years ago, while attempting to make sense of the emotions I was experiencing after a devastating loss, D. introduced me to this 13th century Portuguese term, which describes a longing or yearning for something from the past that no longer exists in the present.

One definition of saudade is a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist,” and another, stronger definition, is “the love that remains.”  It is a kind of melancholy that leaves one longing for what used to be, but also encompasses a “paradoxical joy derived from acceptance of fate and the hope of recovering or substituting what is lost by something that will either fill in the void or provide consolation.”

The feelings brought about by saudade connect both the past and the future to the present, and are not only used to describe the feeling in relationship to people, but also to places [like one’s homeland] and traditions or “the old ways.”  It recognizes that what has happened, can’t be changed – only remembered.

On September 11, 2001, so much was lost by so many that the pain of loss still permeates the fabric of New York City.  It’s not that people haven’t moved forward with their lives, they have, and the evidence of the strength and resilience of New Yorkers rises from every corner, but saudade sneaks through the cracks.

I wasn’t in New York City on 9/11, nor did I lose anyone close to me in the attacks, but the account that D. wrote for me a few years ago [The Rising: 9/11] helped me begin to understand the depth of pain that he, and other New Yorkers, felt as their city was attacked.  The first time I read D.’s account, I remember sitting in front of my computer, openly sobbing. As I read, I felt waves of anger, fear, despair, and pain wash over me, and I wondered how in the world D., and his fellow New Yorkers, had coped with all of this up close and personal.

As I read on, I realized that they dealt with it by being kind to one another, by finding commonalities, and by doing whatever they could to help.  As D. writes, “…people actually looked at each other in the streets and subways. We made eye contact and nodded to each other. There was a feeling that we were all together in the suffering and anger and fear.”  The tragedy that ripped the city apart brought New Yorkers closer together – because they remembered.


This summer, while in New York, the emotions I felt while reading D.’s account came rushing back when he and I were out touring the Financial District.  We had just rounded the corner in front of the World Trade Center when two guys selling commemorative souvenir photo-booklets shoved them in front of us and asked if we’d like to buy one.  Without looking at either man, D. muttered a terse, “No” and kept walking.  Not being used to this daily profit-driven reminder, I was outraged.

I remembered D.’s vivid descriptions, saw the pain these “souvenirs” caused my friend, and I wanted to rip those books out of the hands of those selling them and ask them if they’d stopped to consider how much pain they were causing by hawking their goods. If I’d thought it would have done any good, I probably would have, but I didn’t want to draw attention to something D. had obviously found a way to endure, so I shut my mouth and silently hoped that the warehouse containing the remaining “memorabilia” would burn down while all of the sellers were home for the night – out of harm’s way.

And yet, I also realized that these “sales people” are also a sign of saudade.  New York City experienced a devastating tragedy, mourned the losses, and began to rebuild.  The souvenir sellers make their money by selling memories of the past – albeit not ones that anyone wants to return to – in order to ensure that no one ever forgets what used to be.  I’m not saying they do it for sentimental reasons or because they love New York, I’m saying that they remain in business because people buy the booklets, and those who buy them remember.

And it’s those who remember who are making a difference – both in big and small ways.

There are many people who remember 9/11 and are committed to helping prevent an attack like this from ever happening again.  Many of those people [such as the 9/11 widows who started Beyond the 11th] have become involved in projects designed to put an end to that which causes people to believe that attacks like these are a solution to the problems of poverty, oppression, illiteracy, and religious intolerance.  Only by remembering the past and working toward change in the present can the future be altered.

What does this have to do with saudade?

Saudade is the longing for what has been, the knowledge that it can never be again, and the yearning for what has yet to be.

As the world commemorates the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I think saudade is a useful term as to describe the feelings many of us are struggling with as we try to make sense of all that was lost on that terrible day, the uncertainty we live with in the present, and the world we hope to create for the future.

May peace – and saudade – be with us all.

New York City Rhythm

5 Aug

Corner Park - Photo by MAG

One Year to Move Soundtrack

One of the many things I loved about New York was that, contrary to popular belief, the city has a good deal of green space.  Neighborhoods have carved out small oasises where residents [and travelers] can sit and enjoy a little peace and quiet – relatively speaking.

When I awoke on Sunday morning, I realized that all of my best laid plans [see my pre-travel blog entries] were going to go astray since I’d overslept and missed out on my chance to attend mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was at that moment that I decided to chuck the itinerary, and just “follow my bliss,” as Joseph Campbell would say.

I am so incredibly thankful I did.

Once I got ready and packed what I’d need for the day in my messenger bag, I headed out on foot to explore the West Village.  I needed caffiene and food, in that order, but I had no idea what was available, so I consulted my handy Urbanspoon app and found that there were no fewer than eight Starbucks stores within walking distance.  Once I had a cup of hot dark coffee in hand, I began narrowing my options for brunch.

Breakfast at The PATH Cafe - Photo by MAG

I finally settled on The PATH Cafe on Christopher Street.  When I arrived, around 10:30 am, the place was nearly empty.  I ordered and read the paper while I waited for breakfast to be delivered.  There was something decadent about sitting at the counter enjoying a lesiurely Sunday morning, and I decided that whether in New York or not, this needed to be incorporated into my weekly routine.

While  eating, I took a closer look at the artwork on the walls of the cafe, and noticed that the photograph to my left was not, in fact, a painting, but rather a photo of a painting on a garage door.  I asked the server about it and she informed me that the artist was Chris Sullivan,  an architectural photographer, and invited me to return to the cafe for her talk on photography later that week.  I made a note of it, and told her that if I was in the area, I would definitely drop by.

After breakfast, I wandered aimlessly up Christopher Street observing the scenery and checking out various second hand stores.  In one, I found a long-sleeved sheer black Banana Republic shirt.  I ended up paying $7.00 [plus the 8% New York city/state tax] for a shirt that had probably been originally priced at more than $30.00.  This confirmed, once and for all, that, thanks to my mother, finding deals is in my DNA.

I followed Christopher Street east to 9th Street, and then followed that to Broadway where I walked up to 12th Street and found Strand Bookstore.  I could have spent a week in that place, but I paced myself and left after…two hours.  I wandered up Broadway to Union Square Park and found an empty table behind a tent where a Motown Tribute group filled the air with the smooth, smokey sounds of their “Imagination [Running Away with Me].”

Around 3:00 pm, after having finished his day’s tasks, D. joined me at Union Square where we watched mandala artist,  Joe Mangrum, use his bags of colored sand to create an intricate and elaborate free-hand design on the pavement.  Since it can take more than six hours to create a design, donations are what keeps Joe afloat. So, I dug out the buck I’d won from D. the day before and tossed it in the can.

Central Park Pond - Photo by DMT

D.’s plan for the day was a trip to Central Park, so we hopped the subway and rode it up to somewhere around 57th Street.  With his wealth of knowledge about the history of New York landmarks and buildings, D. made an excellent tour guide [although, I think he was a little surprised by how fast I walked given that Detroit is the Motor City].  He even took a few pictures of the skyline from Central Park for me so that the shots would be sharp and focused.

After hanging out in the park for a few hours, D. had to move on to an evening dinner engagement, so we walked down 9th Avenue [through Hell’s Kitchen and past the Lincoln Center] and parted ways at 50th Street.

D. had recommended numerous resturants, but I didn’t find anything that appealed to me until I reached 36th Street, where I stopped and ate an amazing meal at a little Thai place called Aura.

Scallops with vegetables in a spicy jalapeno sauce - Photo by MAG

After dinner, I walked down 36th Street to 8th Avenue and caught the subway back to 14th Street where I successfully navigated my way back to the Jane – and my bed – where, exhausted by the many, many miles of walking I fell soundly asleep and dreamed of the city.

Show Me

23 Jul

The Gehry Building - Photo by MAG

One Year to Move Soundtrack

After my jaunt to Harlem, things calmed down a bit.  I think it might have been due to the fact that a real New Yorker took over the navigation duties and expertly guided me around the city.

After I checked into my hotel, D. and I walked up 14th Street to visit the Apple Store.  In my neck of the woods, the Apple Stores all reside in suburban malls and are roughly the size of a one-bedroom apartment -in New York that would be two studio apartments.

When we reached the corner opposite the 14th Street Apple Store, I stopped walking and stared at it for a moment before looking back at D. and exclaiming, “That’sthe store? All three stories? Holy moly!”  I then did what any Apple-loving tourist would do – pulled out my iPhone and started snapping pictures of the building.

14th Street Apple Store - Photo by MAG

Once I’d shot as many pictures as I wanted, D. and I headed inside the massive store and he laughed as I ran up the stairs like a little kid on Christmas morning exclaiming, “Look at this!  They have a whole floor for their iPads!”  In a flash, I quickfooted it up another flight, yelling, “D.!  Look!  Another whole floor for their Genius Bar! Oh my gosh!”

I doubt that even Steve Jobs was this excited when he first viewed the 14th Street store.

I’m used to the way things are run at stores in Michigan, so one of the first things I noticed was that the store had no Concierege [the friendly Apple Store greeter whose job it is to warmly welcome customers].  When it became obvious that there was no Concierge, I was confused and immediately consulted my tour guide [who I tend to view as my own personal version of Wikipedia when it comes to all things New York] and asked, “Hey D., why don’t they have anyone greeting customers?”  D. looked at me and deadpanned, “Mary, New Yorkers don’t mess around when they shop.  A greeter slows them down – and pisses them off.”  I whipped around ready to earnestly defend the role, but when I saw the grin on D.’s face we both burst into laughter.

We then headed for the subway and took it all the way down to the Financial District.  On the way downtown, D. explained the layout of the city streets in a way that made so much sense that I would later use it with other New York tourists.  The avenues are laid out east to west [with 1st Ave. the farthest east], and the streets are south to north [1st St. is just north of SoHo], and the subways are laid out in numbers and letters.  I got the hang of the A, C, and E trains while I was there, the rest will have to wait until my next trip.

As we exited the subway station, D. said he had a surprise for me. Knowing that all of the surprises thus far had been landmarks that I’d wanted to see, I was excited to see what he had in store.  The moment I cleared the stairwell and set foot on the sidewalk, I saw it.

Rising out of the ground in a column of torqued silver was the Gehry building. As I my eyes climbed skyward to take it all in, the sight of finished building took my breath away. For a moment, I was overcome with emotion, and I let out a quiet, involuntary, “Oh!”

I’d been following this building’s construction for as long as I’d been walking my own path toward freedom.  And now, here it was.  Soaring toward the sky in a tower of glass and steel was the architectural representation of my own process of reconstruction; the physical embodiment of all of the obstacles I’d faced and doubts I’d overcome in order to move forward and hang on to my faith in my dreams.

I raised my eyes to find the top of the building as I fought to hold back the tears.

Spruce Street - 2009. Photo by DMT

I couldn’t see the very top of the building because it was shrouded in fog, but I could hear Mr. Gehry’s voice saying, “Architecture is a small piece of this human equation, but for those of us who practice it, we believe in its potential to make a difference, to enlighten and enrich the human experience, to penetrate the barriers of misunderstanding and provide a beautiful context for life’s drama.”

And I let the tears flow.

Standing nearby, D. reached out and put a supportive hand on my shoulder.  He’d been an integral part of this moment since he’d been the one who had taken pictures of the building’s progress and sent them to me.  With tears streaming down my cheeks, I turned and gave him a small smile, then took the camera out of my bag and began taking my own pictures in reverent silence.

When I was done, I brushed the tears from my face, turned to D. and said, “Okay, what’s next?”  He smiled and replied, “You’ll see!”  To which I replied, “You’d better not make me cry again. Seriously, dude.”

Spruce Street - 2011. Photo by MAG

We stopped at the Open Door, a gastropub on John St., where we recounted teenage adventures we’d had and D. tested my knowledge of 80s music by betting me a dollar that I couldn’t name the group that was singing a song that was playing [“C’mon Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners].  As D. handed over the buck he’d bet, I said, “C’mon man, I was in high school in the 80s!” He laughed and we proceeded to enjoy a wonderful lunch. I had a delicious Grilled Chicken sandwich with roasted red peppers, brie, and basil aioli on a ciabatta roll, and a fantastic beer that D. recommended [the name escapes me now].

After lunch, we walked down and explored Pier 17 for a bit before D. had to get home.  He walked me back to the subway station and pointed me in the direction of the 14th Street stop where I was planning to meet some former students for drinks.

Once I’d located Nikki, Brad, JD, we all walked over to a bar on 14th Street [again, the name escapes me] where we sat at a table on the sidewalk and enjoyed catching up on all of the adventures they’d had since graduating from school.  It was a wonderful evening, and as I headed back to my hotel I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

And that was just the first day!

Stay tuned for more adventures!

Waiting for Tonight

31 May

SoHo Fire Escape. Photo by DMT

New York City is just around the corner – only 11 days till lift off [and landing]!

As I sift through my incredibly long list of “Things I Want to Do” and work on outlining a tentative schedule for plans, I can feel my heart pounding and my pulse racing just thinking about what it will be like to finally be in New York City!

I imagine it will feel a bit like coming home.  How I can “come home” to a city that I’ve only once visited, I’m not sure, but that’s what it feels like right now.

I’ll arrive on Saturday afternoon, and make my way to my home base for the trip, The Jane.  Hopefully, D. will be able to meet me along the way, but if not, I’m sure I’ll do just fine following his detailed directions, and relying on the kindness of strangers, if need be.  Saturday afternoon is wide open to possibilities, so I’m not sure what I’ll be doing – it’s probably best to be flexible, since travel has a way of messing up even the best laid plans!

On Sunday morning, my plan is to rise early and enjoy a peaceful breakfast at The PATH Cafe in the West Village.  After breakfast, I plan to head over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the 10:00 am mass.  I may be a “recovering Catholic,” but I can’t wait to experience the history, architecture, and beautiful choral music at this iconic NYC landmark.  Sunday afternoon may entail a personal tour of the city, courtesy of my good friend, D, if his schedule works out. My backup plan is to visit Central Park and take the “Arts and Architecture Tour” of the park – the city has provides a map and an audio guide, which I have already downloaded!  Sunday evening, I might head over to Tom Soter’s Sunday Night Improv and catch the 8:00 pm show.

5th Avenue Store - photo by Apple

My Monday plans involve visiting the Apple Retail Stores on 5th Avenue and in SoHo!  I’m so excited to have a chance to take a look at these stores “up close and personal!” I’m a little disappointed that I’ll miss the June 8 discussion with filmmaker Ahmed Ahmed and the demonstration of the “Lucky Peach” app by famed Momofuku chef, David Chang.  I’m slowly but surely learning that you can’t do it all.

Tuesday is my Museum Day!  I plan to visit MoMA during the day, and attend the 33rd Annual Museum Mile Festival that evening.  As an added bonus, a few former students who have relocated from Michigan to Manhattan might join me that evening!

Wednesday is an open day – right now.  I might check out Brooklyn and then again, I might just follow my bliss and do whatever catches my fancy that day.  Who knows?

As far as food goes, J. has armed me with a list of possibilities that would keep me busy for at least three months, so I’m just going to remain flexible and see what I feel like trying depending on where I’m at in the city!

Now I only have to wait eleven more nights for the adventure to begin!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Night Moves

25 Apr

Financial District. Photo by DMT

T minus 47 and counting!

I’ve been exploring options for evening activities in New York City, and I can barely contain my excitement!  There are hundreds of things to do in the city in June – and the vast majority of them are FREE!

From June 6-July 30, Shakespeare in the Park will be staging both Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well!  Free tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at the Delacourte Theater in Central Park, but the line appears to begin at 6:00 am on the day of the performance with distribution beginning at 1:00 pm.  I’m familiar with these types of lines, so the question will be whether or not I want to spend a portion of one of my days waiting in line for a ticket.  It could be an adventure, though, so I haven’t ruled it out!

On June 14, from 5:45-9:00 pm NYC hosts the 33rd Annual Museum Mile Festival.  Called “New York’s Biggest Block Party” the festival covers 23 blocks and offers free admission to nine of the city’s most popular museums.  This year’s opening ceremony will take place at El Museo del Barrio, and then move into the streets for a festival of art, music and street performances designed to excite and entertain visitors and residents alike.

Broadway offers Rush and SRO tickets to popular shows at substantially discounted prices, if one is willing to get up early and be at the box office hours before it opens.

Nasty Mondays at Le Poisson Rouge sound like an amazing mix of rock, punk, country, new wave, alternative, where “no genre is off limits and no era is out of place”according to Barcelona DJs Max and Soren! The only drawback might be that NYC clubs are geared toward the terminally hip, and at 44, I think I might have crossed the line from hip to middle-aged and boring about ten years ago, but you never know unless you try!

On June 14, the Joyce Theater will stage Performance A of Rioult. The Joyce says, “Acclaimed for exquisite, sensual dancers and masterful choreography, RIOULT presents two world premieres on two diverse and superb programs. Program A features the much-anticipated world premiere of Bare Bach, an evening of powerful dances, set to Bach masterpieces, that magically transforms the experience of the composer’s works. Program B switches gears with a world premiere, performed to the music of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, Aaron Jay Kernis that inaugurates RIOULT’s Dance to Contemporary Composers series. Passionate, intensely human, intelligent work for audiences who are ready to be deeply moved — see RIOULT.”  A limited number of discounted tickets [$10.00!] can be purchased by calling Joyce Charge at 212-242-0800.

What excites me about the nightlife in New York City is that there is so much to do for so little money!  I recognize that the trade off might be time spent waiting in line or having less than perfect seats at a show, but the reality is that performances and events are about the experience of being part of community of observers and participants.

And while I have no idea what I’ll actually be able to experience while in New York, I am intrigued and excited by the “night moves” that the city has to offer!

One Year to Move Soundtrack


2 Dec

Brooklyn Heights from Lower Manhattan. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

All signs point to Brooklyn.

I’ve been researching where I want to live when I move to New York, and while I’ve tried to envision myself in many of the different neighborhoods, I seem to be getting a signal from the universe that Brooklyn is where I belong.

The first sign was the Battle of Brooklyn. Fought in 1776 after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was the longest and largest battle of the entire American Revolutionary War.  Brooklyn is stubborn, resistant and has a history of doing things its own way – I can relate.

The idea that I should live in Brooklyn started to germinate about a year and a half ago, when I begged D. to take pictures of “all those Brooklyn girls” mentioned in Rod Stewart’s song “Downtown Train.”  D. promised he’d try, but I think he’s been wary about invading other people’s privacy – even on a subway platform – either that or Brooklyn girls scare him [Don’t judge! I’ve heard those girls are kind of tough].  In any case, my imagination ran wild and “Brooklyn girls” became the mythical representation of all that is mysteriously exciting about New York City.  I want to be one.  I think.

The second sign occurred during a shopping trip with J. We visited Sephora in search of the perfect shade of pink-but-not-too-pink lipstick.  After an hour of trying on every brand and shade we could locate [and assuring the nice sales people who work that, yes, we we were finding everything okay] we finally found the perfect shade – Buxom’s “Brooklyn” [which we now both own!].

A few weeks later, J. sent me an email in which she had attached a link to a line of address change cards from Lucky Duck Letter Press.  The cards are called “Brooklyn Brownstone” and they’re perfect!

Last month, Daily Candy offered up creations from the Butter Queen of Brooklyn! Four flavors of homemade butter named after former US First Ladies: Martha Washington: Roasted Garlic, Chives, and Tarragon; Eleanor Roosevelt: Pecan Praline; Jackie O.: Bing Cherry, Bourbon Vanilla, and Pink Sea Salt; Lady Bird: Hibiscus Lime.  Yummy!

Photo by Butter Queen of Brooklyn.

I’ve also been digging through the real estate ads again.  I’ve fallen in love with curved nooks, large windows and the personality of each Brooklyn brownstone, but I’ve also realized that falling in love is probably going to cost me upwards of $2000.00 a month. This is probably the minimum I’ll need to rent an apartment that is in a safe neighborhood and has enough space to allow me to maintain a bedroom rather than mount a sleeping bunk over the stove in the kitchen.  I’m either going to need a bigger savings account or a better paying job – or both.

There is something very appealing about being able to live in a part of the city that feels like a community.  Brooklyn is the largest of the five bouroughs in New York with a population of more than 2.5 million.  Its residents are incredibly diverse in race, class, gender, sexuality, and country of origin making it an intersection of interesting experiences!  Brooklyn offers a lively residential experience, proximity to the city, and a chance to escape the urban jungle for a little greenery and the hope of being able to afford an apartment that is bigger than the size of the average high school gym locker.

Photo by the New York Observer

The ethnic makeup of Brooklyn lends itself to a wide variety of restaurants and shops – Italian in Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, and Bay Ridge; West Indian in Crown Heights and Flatbush; Polish in Greenpoint; and Chinese in Sunset Park.  The city has also provided the backdrop for books such as William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brown Stones [three books I have loved!], and for the 1970s cult classic, Saturday Night Fever.  C’mon, who wouldn’t want to live in the city where John Travolta strutted down the street in white polyester bell bottoms as the Bee Gees blared from a boom box?

The sign that made me finally admit that Brooklyn is where I belong, appeared last weekend when a woman came into the store where I work and asked for a small  part.  While we were waiting to see if it was available, we got to talking about what she did for a living.  She told me that she was a grad student at NYU, and when I asked where she lived in the city her answer was – yep – Brooklyn.

Brooklyn seems like the right choice for me.  It’s close enough for me to be able to work and play in Manhattan, but far enough away to give the hope of being affordable and to provide a respite from the hustle and bustle.  The architecture is beautiful, and so far, the apartments I’ve perused on the New York Times Real Estate section seem cozy, but full of light.

I think I could feel very much at home in the city where all those Brooklyn girls live!

One Year to Move Soundtrack

Breakfast in Central Park

20 Nov

Photo by DMT

Central Park: A pastoral retreat in the center of the city that never sleeps; an oasis of calm greenery; a gathering place for art and cultural expression.

It sounds like heaven on earth.

It’s hard to believe that a city as large as New York is home to the most visited urban park in the United States, but each year over twenty-five million people make their way to Central Park.

Designed, in 1858, by landscape designer and writer Fredrick Law Olmsted and the English architect Calvert Vaulx, the park opened in 1870 and covers 770 square acres of city-owned land smack-dab in the center of Manhattan.  In 2005, the real estate value of Central Park was estimated by the property appraisal firm, Miller Samuel, to be $528,783,552,000!

The need, and desire, for a centrally located park in New York City was first voiced in 1844 by poet and editor of the Evening Post, William Cullen Bryant, and by American landscape artist, Andrew Jackson Downing, who felt that as New York grew more crowded, residents needed open air spaces in which to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. At the time, the only such places to escape were the cemeteries, like Green-Wood in Brooklyn.  New York residents also voiced a desire for spaces like London’s Hyde Park and Paris’ Bois de Boulugne where they could engage in open-air driving.

Photo by DMT

Inspired by English parks such as Birkenhead and Derby Arboretum, Olmsted argued that a park was “…a democratic development of the highest significance.”  [ironically, Olmsted clashed with the city’s Democratic machine during the construction of the park].  In 1858, Olmsted and Valux designed was was called the “Greensward Plan” and won a city-sponsored contest.  Construction on the park began that same year, and was fraught with complications related to everything from clearing the land [this required relocating the impoverished, mainly African American, population residing on the land] to clearing the actual land [more gunpowder was used to clear this area than was used during the battle of Gettysburg!] to importing soil from New Jersey because the New York soil was not fertile or substantial enough to sustain the four million trees, plants and shrubs [1,500 different species] that the plan called for.

Central Park was an instant hit with New Yorkers, but by 1900 the popularity of the park was on the decline.  The City Park Commission had been disbanded in 1870, and in 1895 Valux died, leaving the upkeep of the park in question.  A growing fascination with a new technological development – the automobile – meant that people were less interested in using the park for walks and picnics, and the lack of interest shown by the Tammany Hall political machine in keeping up the park left the park largely untended until the early 1930s.  [Fun park fact: Sheep’s Meadow got it’s name because until the early 1930s sheep actually grazed in the meadow.  They were relocated upstate during the Great Depression for fear that they would be used as food by impoverished New Yorkers].

In 1934, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was elected to office and put Robert Moses in charge of revitalizing the park.  Moses would become one of the most powerful men in New York as he secured New Deal funds and overhauled the entire park system in a single year.  Moses not only ordered clean up and replanting, he also had workers construct 19 playgrounds, 12 ball fields and handball courts, turning Central Park into a recreational space as well as place to escape city life.

The 1960s defined another era, known as the “Events Era,” in Central Park as the city promoted the use of the park for cultural and political events.  During the 60s theater companies, like Public Theater, produced “Shakespeare in the Park,” and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera began staging productions in the park.  However, despite the interest in cultural events, by the mid-1970s, the park was in decline again.  Economic and social factors both played a role in the park’s reputation as neglected landscape during the day, and a menacing danger to public safety by night.

Central Park by Wikipedia Free Media Project

In 1979, citizen’s groups began forming as a means of countering the park’s reputation as a dangerous place to visit, and by 1980, under the leadership of the Central Park Conservancy revitalization projects were carried out.  The Conservancy sought to restore the once-pastoral feel of the park by eliminating things such as graffiti and instituting a system of “zone based management” that allows for more specialized care of the park.

I am just as excited about exploring this beautiful park within the city as I am about exploring the city itself.  Central Park has history – like Literary Walk, where some of the first sculptures in the park were installed to recognize and honor writers and poets – and culture – like Summerstage, a series of free performances including music, dance, spoken word, and film presentations.  It is a space that allows for private contemplation of nature, and community gatherings that feed the mind and spirit.

The thought of a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a blanket spread out on the lawn while listening to the Philharmonic work some orchestral magic sounds like the perfect Saturday – or any other day- in the park!

Heaven on earth, indeed.

One Year to Move Blog Music

Downtown Train

6 Nov


Photo by DMT

I love public transportation.

When J. and I visited New York City three and a half years ago, I fell in love with the subway system.  There is something so amazing about hopping on the subway with millions of other people and being transported from one part of the city to another with speed and ease.

Photo by DMT

I’ve fed my fascination with the NYC subway by listening to the Bowery Boys podcasts, which detail the history of mass transit in New York City, and this has made me love it even more.

The story of Alfred Ely Beach and his pneumatic transit system captured my attention.  In 1869, Beach came up with the idea of utilizing the pneumatic technology used to move letters and packages to transport people from one location to another and began construction on what was supposed to be a small tunnel for pneumatic tubes.  He built a larger tunnel that could accommodate human traffic, and opened his block long system in February of 1870.  Believing that an extended system of transit had potential,  Beach lobbied the New York legislature between 1870 and 1873 for permission to build a city-wide pneumatic “people mover,” but his idea was opposed by politically connected property owners on Broadway, Alexander Turney Stewart and John Jacob Astor II, who felt the construction process would damage buildings and interfere with surface traffic.

“Beach operated his demonstration railway from February 1870 to April 1873. It had one station in the basement of Devlin’s clothing store, a building at the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren St, and ran for a total of about 300 feet, first around a curve to the center of Broadway and then straight under the center of Broadway to the south side of Murray St” [Scientific American 2010].  [Interesting side note: Beach published the blueprints for the railway system in the 1870 issue of Scientific American, a magazine he and Orson Desaix Munn bought in 1850 for $800.00 – that’s $23,000 in today’s dollars according to the consumer price index].

Beach lost support for his system when William Tweed’s Tammany Hall political machine was disgraced in 1871.  The Panic of 1873 dried up any possibility of funding for the project, and by that time other investors had begun building the elevated rail system that would become the 19th century’s answer to transportation issue in New York City.

Photo by DMT

The history of the subway system adds to my fascination with the actual experience of riding it.  Every weekday over 5 million people ride the subway, and this excites me because this means that there are hundreds of opportunities every day to meet new and interesting people on trips up – or down – town!  I imagine the conversations, the connections, the adventures, and the new discoveries made possible simply by stepping on a subway car!

Ever the pragmatist, D. has reminded me that this also means the possibility of “meeting” the germs of those 5 million people.  He keeps me grounded in reality and cognizant of the fact that my pre-move to do list will need to include a flu shot and investment in lots of hand sanitizer.

Photo by DMT

Given that my experience with the subway system is extremely limited, I’m fairly sure that I’ve romanticized what it will be like.  I know Rod Stewart will not be down in the tunnels late at night pleading to know whether he’ll see me tonight.  I also know that it’s highly unlikely that eye contact with a stranger will lead to love at first sight like in a Savage Garden video.  However, if I have romanticized it, I’m okay with that.  I think the New York City subway system could use a little romance.

And with 5 million daily riders, the possibilities are seemingly endless.


One Year to Move Blog Music

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