I'm sorry. I set a misleading precedent, saying that New York was inspiring the heck out of me and that I'd be reporting like a fiend during my week here. It's not that I haven't had the inspiration, it's just that I haven't had the time. My FMO* is heightened this week. If I'm not out in the city's living room, I feel like I'm not carpe diem-ing. I even feel like I'm wasting my time with sleep. There's so much that I want to be doing, seeing. So many talented creatively-spurring people that I want to talk to. There are so many rich patterns, textures and colors to this city. So, while I could write a diatribe about all I've been observing, for now, let the following brief recap suffice. I'll surely fill in the details later. Because, as I read about in a book of blog excerpts at the Center for the Book Arts' current exhibit,
"As Henri LeFebrve pointed out, without considering the quotidian one loses sight of the actual process of historical becoming. Events become imbued with a false sense of springing from a solitary moment rather than as results of accumulated minor actions. At a micro level, it's in the there and now that individuals exist, and it's through the recounting of these events that people mold their experiences into memories they can live with and knowledge they can build upon."
A Lunch enjoyed watching the Bryant Park skaters
A stroll through Brooklyn Bridge Park
A quilt from an exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum
The Center for the Book Arts
Art at the Center for the Books Arts
Central Park after the big snow.
An installation of antique sewing machines I really liked at a Soho boutique.
Me and my bud after an exquisite Restaurant Week meal.
"New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy."
I've been here before. The path to the door was a familiar one, as I crossed through the regal gates and scuffled across the red brick pathway. The black leather chairs sit facing each other the way they did when I left them last, inviting conversation, signaling rest. And, today, I take a few minutes repose after having travelled no short distance to be here. It feels good to be where I've been before.
This time, the lobby in the Columbia University International Affairs Building is teeming with life. People come in from the frigid (8 degree) outdoors, lungs still puffing out personal fogs of breath half-frozen. Last time I was here, I was helping to move a friend , settling her to begin a graduate program at this grand university.
Now, I'm here to see about a potential life for me. Now, I'm here to see the colder, more ordinary version of daily existence in the concrete jungle of New York City.
On the plane ride up, I devoured E.B. White's simple essay, "Here is New York." The essay, first penned in 1949, is now prefaced with a more recent advisory explaining that the city is not how it was. As is the case with most transitory places, people have come and gone, businesses have replaced each other, things have changed.
But, there are things that have remained. There are, as White observes, three separate New Yorks. There is the one for natives who see the city lights as old hat. There is another altogether for those who traverse to Manhattan each day of the week only to turn around and leave it at day's end. The third city is for dreamers like myself. It's for people who come looking for something. It's the city that is a destination, a goal, an invitation to discovery.
Later in the essay, White goes on to describe both the inescapable community and the possible anonymity of being here. At one point, he sips coffee in a cafe, noting the eighteen inches between him and the neighboring patron. The foot and a half were "both the connection and the separation that New York provides for it's inhabitants."
This week, I hope to be both known and unknown as I spend time on my knees and on my feet. Ironic as it may sound, I'm taking a retreat. I'm seeking a haven in these busy, noisy streets. And in the midst of crowds, I'll find the solitude I seek. And in the buzzing chatter, I hope to hear the quiet voice of wisdom.
I imagine I'll be writing a good deal this week, as all this stimulation stirs up what's been dormant for a long while. I feel as though I could already write a novel from the things I observed on the bus ride, of the fashions, of the texture of the sidewalk. If I bore you with my goings on, just don't mind me. This is helping me to see with eyes wide open, the bright and wonderful world around me.
"Hands are so vital to creativity that I can' t understand why we value the more useless parts of our anatomy more highly." -Jane Brocket, The Gentle Arts of Domesticity
In the passage from which the above quotation was extracted, Brocket goes on to detail the many things of which her hands are capable of doing:
I like the way they knead dough, create stitches, hold yarn, thread needles, sort beads and buttons and deal with fiddly sewing machine parts. Sometimes I watch them as if they don't quite belong to me and am secretly delighted when they seem to know what to do.
Her musings are much akin to my own. For that reason, I was drawn to her words that bring more attention our hands - these so-called more "useful" but under-recognized parts of ourselves.
It echoes what I've recently read in 1 Corinthians, what Paul says about placing more value on some parts of the body than on others. "Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable," he says (v. 23). Or, (in one of my favorite Message interpretations), Eugene says:
You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When's it's a part ofyour own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn't you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
You better believe I would prefer a digestive tract that can handle what I feed my mouth over a Farrah Fawcet 'do. But, as true as this all rings to me, I still struggle with comparing myself to others in the body of Christ. If I can appreciate the less glorified parts of my own anatomy, recognizing that though they aren't highly visible, they are important, then why do I size myself up to other people who seem to be fulfilling a more necessary role in what Scriptures describe as being a figurative "body" of believers?
As I muddle my way through figuring out just what part I play, I hope that I will not fall into the temptation to see the body as anything but a whole made up of vitally different, moving, visible and invisible parts.
Frank may have been on to something. If you want your little valentine to stick around, say it any day with one of these letterpressed Calendartines from Four Hats Press. Get them at www.fourhatspress.com, and in a few days, here, here or here.
Look for a few new things to come off the press within the next few days!
Later this month, I'll venture back to the Big Apple, this time with the intent of living a week in the life of a New York resident. No big splurge shopping sprees, no high-dollar restaurant tickets on my agenda. Just meetings with letterpress printers and trips to the grocery store and gym. Yes, I'm going to try and transplant my quotidian life up North for one week. Sure, I'm going to take full advantage of the buzzing culture that abounds in the city that never sleeps. But, I'm also going to try and really see the city without my rose-colored glasses. Riding on the subway, walking through the cold. I'll carry my belongings on my person, all day, up and down the city streets. These are the sometimes harsh and frustrating realities of living in an expansive city and sharing space with millions of other people.
While moving and beginning again in a new place (any place) is altogether uncomfortable for me to even conceive of doing, I want to believe that I could do all over again what I did when I began a life in the unknown place that is now my home in Birmingham. I am still young, despite how settled I sometimes feel.
So, I'm going to try it for a trial run, hoping that a week will grant me the discernment about this that I've been seeking. Who knows... It could all lead to a grand realization that life where I am is all that I want it to be. Or, I could have to face the frightening possibility of picking up and trying something different. I teeter on the idea that this could quite possibly be the most selfish thing I ever do. But, unless I step out for a moment, giving space to my questions, I wonder if I'll ever hear an answer to the innumerable prayers I've prayed, simply asking God for a call to something, anything.
I pray for the courage to be faithful, whatever that means.
In the midst of my edible bread-making this year, I hope and pray to, like a most admirable woman, also "[watch] over the affairs of [my] household and ... [be watchful, be active with my freedom and rest so as to ensure that I do] not eat the bread of idleness (Proverbs 31:27)."
I've got two hands. Movable, bendable, agile hands. Hands that can sweetly scratch a back or offer a firm handshake. Hands that can ice a cupcake or affix a letterpress plate to a boxcar base. I've got two hands that can stretch out over the keyboard to put letters, words, sentences to my thoughts.
I've got one mind. One fantastically complex, perplexing, twisted, sometimes slow-to-process, sometimes million-mile-an-hour mind. One mind that I don't feel has been put to great use as of late.
This realization has initiated some interesting thought about how to use my mental faculties in my work, whatever it is, whatever it ends up being. I love being at work with my hands. It's been a sensational liberation to find satisfaction in this kind active, tactile productivity. But, I do wonder when/if/how I can combine trade skills with white collar work. How can I put my education, my analytical thought, my creativity to good use?
My prayer is to find a way to marry the two. Lord, let it be so.