“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.”
– Joan Didion
One year ago, on Veterans Day, I sat on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, watching amber leaves follow their gentle spiral toward earth. I’d spent the morning in a nearby East Village coffee shop, pretending to write but instead just eavesdropping, allowing the hushed voices of the people nearby to run through my body, causing my mind to wander to places both foreign and familiar.
I was not what you’d call “happy.” It was three days after a bitterly contested U.S. presidential election, and my candidate – a candidate I campaigned hard for – had lost. I was in the grips of severe writer’s block, well past a self-imposed deadline to submit rewrites of my play to its director. We’d posted casting notices and were preparing to audition actors upon my return to L.A., but I still hadn’t completed the script, a fact that filled me with anxiety and made me feel like a failure.
Veterans Day also marked the one-year anniversary of the death of one of my favorite people: my grandpa Gerry. With so much around me feeling dark and heavy, the absence of the light and joy and laughter he had always brought to my life was like an open wound.
Yet as I sat on that park bench watching the leaves fall, something funny happened. I felt. . . hope. I don’t know where it came from – there was certainly no reason for it – all I know is that in the midst of sorrow, there was a sense of peace, and somehow, I knew that everything would be all right.
There are many reasons why I decided to move to New York, but if I can pinpoint the moment when “maybe” shifted to “yes,” it was there, on that day, on that park bench. It was that quiet, confident voice that said simply, “You’re OK here.” And I listened.
One year later, I am OK here. The cross-country move didn’t shield me from sorrow or from the anniversaries of loved ones lost. But one year later, on Veterans Day, as I walked south along the edge of Morningside Park, watching the late afternoon sun set over Harlem, I didn’t feel sad as I thought about my grandfather. I felt grateful. Grateful for the tremendous gifts he and the rest of my family gave me, not the least of which is my awareness of the ephemeral nature of life. Because of them, I made promises to myself about the things I wouldn’t wait to do. Because of them, I am getting better at keeping them.
As I’m writing this, it’s November 14th, the two-month anniversary of my move to New York. Truth be told, I thought I would have accomplished more in these first two months. I thought I would have had a reading of my play by now, and would be preparing for its production. I thought I would have seen more people, would have done more things, would have checked more items off my to-do list.
But I have found that everything is taking longer than I expected, because just being in this city is exhausting. It’s exhausting, and it’s exhilarating, too: all the people, all the stories, all the humanity and heartbreak and hope all around. It makes me want to write all the time. It makes me feel things I’ve never felt before. And it wears me out.
In many ways, I’m still the girl in that East Village coffee shop from a year ago, eavesdropping, allowing the stories of other people to run through me. I am learning to relinquish my need to constantly produce work, and instead to surrender to this moment, finding faith that the words I need to write will find their form in their own time.
Because this moment is not really about work: it’s about finding my footing in a new place. It’s about letting go of old wounds and bidding a gentle farewell to a past that used to own me. It’s about understanding that the greatest act of rebellion – the greatest act of liberation – can be as simple as sitting on a park bench and believing in the quiet, confident voice that says, “You’re OK here.”
I am OK here.
Until next time, friends.
Yes take some time to settle. 🙂 Wow I used to live on that street, 120th and Amsterdam. Loved it there.
Wow! Super close. I love this neighborhood too.
The first post I read was when you left Paris. In September I rented a AB&B there it was on the 5th floor and the stairs were from Hell Spiral and narrow. Your account made my plans then took the bullet train to Barcelona ,drove to Andorra, and then a 7 day cruise at least you did this when you are young. I am 77 if you go back Auto World in Brussell is worth the trip on a bullet Train.
I have attached a Map of New York City in 1879.
Harry Moore 619-225-0372 619-508-6561 Cell
On Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 2:50 PM, Extra Dry Martini wrote:
> Extra Dry Martini posted: “âI know why we try to keep the dead alive: we > try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if > we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish > the dead, let them go, keep them dead.â – Joan Didion ” >
Harry, that is incredible! I salute you for your sense of adventure. I hope you continue to explore.
All my best to you, Sarah
Re-locating is HARD WORK. Takes 1-2 years I reckon, to really ‘settle in’. Lovely writing though, thank you, G
It is indeed! Or at least, it has been. Thank you for reading!
I love this so so SO much. I can relate to it on so many levels. I also moved to New York after the death of a loved one, and like you I experienced so many highs and lows. And five and a half years later I wouldn’t change a thing. Moving is always scary but there is something about moving to New York that is even scarier (and I have been coming here all my life and have family here) yet a friend told me before I made the leap, that even if I “failed” in New York I still succeeded, because failing in New York is the equivalent of success in any other city.
I can’t say whether I have failed or succeeded because my story is still being told, but I always think of that quote from him and smile. You have got this! ❤
Thank you friend! I like the idea that failing in New York is the equivalent of success in another city. It takes some of the pressure off. 😉 And you’re correct: your story is still being told. The only real failure would be to give up. Thank you for reading and for your kind wishes! One of these days, we’ll have to meet!
Right? It definitely does! I love what you said about “The only real failure is to give up” It is so true! There is so much to see and do and life, and it is up to us to embrace it. Awe anytime hun! Yes definitely! I would love that! ❤