An Ordinary Room

My last post was about how sometimes I wish I could move to an island. Then I didn’t post anything for a long time because I was moving. To an island. It’s a lot like my imaginary private island in Maine, except that instead of a one-room cabin we have one room in a pre-war apartment, and instead of pine trees there are the naked headless mannequins that guard my neighbor’s second floor balcony. Haha.

I never intended to move to Brooklyn and I never intended not to move to Brooklyn. It worked like this: I was crossing a threshold in my life and I didn’t know where to go next, so I threw some ideas out into the ether and waited to see how the universe might decide. A close friend from college who lives in Park Slope got very excited that I had applied for one job in New York. I said not to get too excited; I didn’t get the job, and anyway we were probably moving to Boston. A and I knew that this summer we would bid adieu to “strangers are friends you haven’t met yet” Fort Collins and caravan back to the land of “mind your own business”, otherwise known as the East Coast. We hadn’t agreed on an exact destination. We agreed that we both missed the northern Atlantic Ocean and its brisk people.

We could not agree on a town, so we avoided the question. In June I made a last minute pilgrimage to the mountains outside of Boulder, where I sat in front of a statue of the goddess Saraswati and asked for guidance. I was doing some automatic writing. If I received any answer at all, it was, “Don’t be so concerned with getting what you want.” This was frustrating. I drove to Taos and spent the night with a psychic I found on couchsurfing.org, who tried very hard to sell me a cream with anti-aging powers. I was skeptical of her metaphysical abilities, but grateful for the gift of lodging. In the morning I went to a coffee shop to document everything I remembered about the psychic before I forgot, and my Park Slope friend called me. She said, “My roommate is leaving the apartment this summer and we need subletters for three weeks, and I’m offering you this fantastic, unbelievable price because you’re my friend.” I was going to be camping that afternoon, so she gave me only a few hours to decide. I called A. We made half a decision: go to Brooklyn for three weeks, then figure out the rest of it.

Before we left Colorado, I consulted my tarot cards about the possibilities. “The cards say we should move to New York,” I told A. He rolled his eyes. He lives his life like a normal person who doesn’t know his rising sign. He lets me have my way a lot of the time, but he doesn’t make choices using the Rider-Waite deck; one of us needs to be the rational one. Nevertheless, we arrived in Brooklyn and A was the one who suggested looking for apartments in the first week. I pushed for the place in Sunset Park because I was in a bookstore earlier that day and Paul Auster’s novel Sunset Park was also there and this is how I construct my reality. A signed the papers because the place was newly renovated and large and the rent was low, considering.

Now, of course, I feel self-conscious about being a writer who lives in Brooklyn, which is a prerequisite. ‘In’ crowds make me uncomfortable; I prefer misfits and renegades, but I end up in a crowd either way. Literary Brooklyn as a theory or myth is an annoying place for the rest of the world because Brooklyn writers are the current In Crowd; they get a lot of attention just for being here, and there’s a distinctly self-congratulatory vibe about the whole thing. Though I was instrumental in getting us here, until a few months ago I never thought that I would live in New York City. We visited Maine in August, and I saw a guarded look pass over the faces of the people I’d always known when I told them where I moved. It was fear and pride, confusion and disgust, but a Maine version of that, so it was understated: an expressionless expression. When we returned to Brooklyn, I sat in a wine bar with another writer, to whom I’d been introduced virtually by a mutual friend in Colorado (strangers are friends you haven’t met yet). She was raised in Massachusetts, and we talked about why New Englanders often feel such hostility toward New York. I said it was because people in New England value humility above all else. To seek to fulfill one’s career ambitions at great cost, in a loud, iconic city, is not a humble venture. But that’s an old story everywhere. Then I let it slip that A and I own two typewriters, and she joked, “You’re already a Brooklyn cliché!” She was not being snarky; she is a sincere person and she was saying, look: you and your typewriters fit in here.

There is a 2008 essay by Colson Whitehead in which he wrote “I dig it here and all, but it’s just a place. It does not have magical properties.” He said that Brooklyn writers were not leading the public, sophisticated lives that other people seemed to think they were, because they were home alone writing. It’s like how I asked a friend if she wanted to go to the Brooklyn Book Festival, but she said she’d been to a lot of those types of events, so now she prefers to stay home and read. She and Colson Whitehead have a point. I look for magic everywhere in the world, but what I need most is an ordinary room, devoid of all distracting magical properties. A and I have a place with several piles of books and guitars. We are writing songs and stories. We have a rough draft for a flow chart about fedoras and a comic series about Juggins the Clown. The whole Juggins idea might be weird, but we think we’re hilarious together, and that’s its own kind of sorcery. We are in this apartment because of my Park Slope friend, because of Paul Auster, and maybe because of my amateur tarot reading. And though we could have ended up anywhere, here we are in this park of sunsets, writing as we would in any other place.

Summer!

I finished my finals last week and now it is officially summer! I’ve been out of school for a couple of years, which isn’t a long time, but it still feels wonderful to honor that long lost summer vacation once again. We’ve had warm days in Colorado, flowers are blooming, I’m taking a vacation to Maine soon, and although I’m working I don’t have to start until June. Feels like lemonade and easy reading and the smell of sunscreen. And oh, how I could use an ocean.

...this ocean.

The ironic thing about summer, or any vacation in grad school, is that extremely non-vacationy plan to be productive. I think my colleagues and I all feel like if we have any time without classes and teaching, we should be using that time to work on our writing. Still, exhaustion sets in. We don’t accomplish enough and we feel semi-guilty and the fight to write continues throughout the semester in a never-ending cycle of too little time.

I am not, like some more ambitious and organized writers I know, planning to start/finish a novel this summer. I’m just not there yet. But I would like to write three new stories for the coming semester, revise several that I’ve already written, and submit to journals or prepare submissions for the fall. I have an entire shelf of books to read by August, and a growing list of new releases as well. I plan to revise my teaching curriculum with all-new readings. And I’m already wondering, between work, sleep, and friends, how much of this is going to happen.

In the end, though I do work hard on my writing, I also have to be realistic and strive for balance in my life. So I have to have some goals for my Colorado social calendar too. This summer, I want to go camping and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, swim in a lake, ride a horse, take my guitar out of its case, and see a concert at Red Rocks.

What are your summer plans? How do you balance writing and life?