"Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don't struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality."--Pema Chodron
It's been over a year since I started writing on this blog. I don't know that I accomplished what I set out to do (live in the moment) but I've tried, with mixed results. We're wired to daydream, tune out, fantasize, reminisce, hold out hope for better things to come. It's OK to do these things, but it's also useful to catch yourself sometimes and say, I am right here now.
This weekend I visited friends in New York City. I hadn't been in the city for six months--way too long to stay away. Yet sometimes I resist visiting New York. My old city makes me melancholy. I no longer feel the personal, intense longing to fit in as a New Yorker, to feel that New York City loves me as much as I love New York City. But I also miss the thrill of the chase.
I remember the negatives of living there: the crowds of people being swallowed by the entrance to Penn Station, the incessant noise and rude drivers of midtown, the impossibly chic women in their Vogue-inspired fashions who make me feel like the bridge-and-tunnel Jersey girl who shops for her designer clothes at TJ Maxx. Not that I should be ashamed of my roots--we all have to come from somewhere, and I came from Central New Jersey. But New York City was always my golden ring--just out of reach, a bit out of my league.
I worked in Manhattan for ten years and like so many transplants from around the country, I tried to pass. I accumulated a lot of credit card debt in the process, but to this day I believe it was worth it. Now I don't have to wonder what it would have been like to be twentysomething and living in one of the greatest cities on earth--I had my taste, and it was delicious, but not something I can make my regular diet.
Coming back to New York this weekend and anticipating the unstoppable force of nostalgia, I decided to make a list of ten things I wanted to do that I can't do in Boston--maybe that would be a nice way to enjoy the present moments while I was there. I tried hard not to look back over my shoulder, at that 26 year-old me drinking champagne at Flute, eating tapas and drinking sangria on a Tuesday night with my friends in that little Spanish place with the one-letter name in Soho, wandering in the West Village on a warm summer evening, stopping for pizza at Two Boots. I look away from that slimmer, cuter, braver, livelier ghost of me, that girl who was safe in the knowledge that she had something new to discover everyday in a city that changed like the shapes in a viewfinder. I try to focus on who I am now--a woman with more wisdom and spirituality, a smarter woman, a woman of substance with love in her life.
This "woman" forgets to go one level higher in Loehmann's, automatically combing the racks in juniors as she did ten years ago. It's Ladies' Sportswear for me now, or whatever they call clothes for thirty- and forty-somethings (I never understood that term--sportswear. What does that mean exactly? I don't see any tennis skirts or baseball cleats on offer.) I wander aimlessly into the "Womans" section, the Ellen Tracy and Jones New York racks, and I start to sweat. Enjoy this time, I warn myself, enjoy being 36, because it will be gone before you know it and soon you'll be wearing satin tunics and chunky ethnic jewelry.
Later, at the Strand, getting 50% off on new hardcovers downstairs where they keep the discarded review copies--that's still the same--though they don't check your bag anymore, and they sell a lot more Strand-inspired merchandise than they used to, as if The Strand is now The Hard Rock Cafe, another place to acquire a bag or a t-shirt to show people where you've been.
I also notice--when I'm not busy reminiscing--that parts of New York are actually very quiet. Walking down 9th St on a Sunday to meet a friend for lunch at a vegetarian place called Gobo, I notice the stillness, the practically empty sidewalk, the lovely brownstones with pots of flowers on their front steps and ancient vines creeping up their facades. I discover the poet Marianne Moore's house--the plaque says she made that apartment her home for most of her life. I never noticed this historical treasure before. I imagine Marianne emerging from this brownstone, in a smart hat and gloves, going to some literary party. It makes me happy that now, by virtue of being a tourist, I notice more and more that I might have missed before, when I was always racing by on my way to work or dinner or to the subway. Kind of like what I do in Boston now.
I had a lovely time in New York visiting with my friends. They were by far the best part of my weekend. But heading home on the train, I didn't feel that same sting of leaving my beloved city. Not that Boston feels like home yet, but my longing for Manhattan is not as acute as when I left it three years ago. Back then I wrote a love letter to Manhattan, comparing it to the lover who I courted but never won. One day maybe if I live somewhere else, I'll long for the youthful, vibrant, colorful, and intelligent feel of Boston. Or maybe I'll never love a place quite like I did New York City. After all, maybe contentment in the present is better than always reaching for that far-off shangra-la that is the past.
Wherever I am is the right place, and right now that place is here.