Friday, March 18, 2011
New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation. I am sitting at the moment in a small room in seventy degree spring weather, halfway down an air shaft, in Queens. My cat rests near the open windows and some air moves in an out of my room, but the building is quiet and still for the night. Yet I am curiously affected by the emanations from my daily surroundings. Today I walked twenty-two blocks from where Woody Allen filmed "Hannah and her Sisters." After work I took a Ballet class with a dancer who studied under Balanchine himself, and found out that one of my classmates writes for the New Yorker. Today I was thirty-six blocks away from the Empire State Building, and only two feet away from one of my favorite philosophers, Linda Alcoff, who was presenting a paper at the Society for Women in Philosophy. Just a couple of hours ago I had a beer somewhere with thinning lights in the Bowery area where bars are mirrored and chromed and the lingering traces of poetry and lamps are made out of whiskey bottles. Here people write their first novels made out of fresh memories. Circumstances of this sort become a part of one's daily routine in this city and put one at risk of feeling very small. And despite how many times I have complained about its never ending pace, there are nights like this, when I cannot imagine myself living anywhere else. Patti Smith used to write poetry for New York, and E. B White writes how "The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck." It all comes down to being able to handle privacy and participation in equal amounts. Too much participation can drive one insane in NYC, but too much privacy puts one at risk of missing out on luck, on the poetry made out of fresh memories and the grandiose ideas developed while riding crowded subways at midnight. Nobody should come to live in New York unless they are willing to be lucky.