Melt (In the Shadow of Skyscrapers)
"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." —Soren Kierkegaard.
I've been staging a series of interventions in my life. Not the kind where a group of friends and family gather to confront a loved one, Timmy, we love you and we think you have a problem. No, I am orchestrating reverse interventions, if you will. Timmy, thank you for loving me. I need to deal with some issues on my own. Perhaps it's something to do with the heat that's finally hit the city. The mixture of sweat and grime and the overpowering smell of urine rising from my subway station. Taking my flip-flops off at the end of the day and seeing a crude dirt outline of my toes.
I've lived through heat before, growing up in the south with no air-conditioning—just a loud house fan that drew in air from outside to circulate through the rooms. (Never mind if that outside air was 90 degrees). A semester in Ghana where I never stopped sweating, not even for a minute—bucket showers did little to stop the salty flow. But the heat of New York—dirty, polluted, concretized—it's brought out something more primal, more raw. It's as if releasing all these toxins from my body yet still being caked with city detritus has spurred me to create some similar trend in my personal life. To let go of certain things and stew in what remains.
The loneliness I've carried for years (how unbearably light I would be without it)—well, I wanted to stop running from it, always searching for ways to numb it, stop it, kill it. The continuous ache—a rich, deep, mysterious rumbling that grasped to desire and longing—it's growing more quiet, less fearsome. I'm recognizing the absolute gift of it all—to follow any road without looking back, discern my own wants and needs without compromising for another's, depend on myself for happiness because no one else can give that to me.
This summer is mine, claimed with a calm ferocity. Wake, face apartment windows for sun salutations. Meditate. Turn on the computer and write a little if so moved. Venture outside with my journal, commune in an urban park. Culturally stimulating (and free—key to the starving artist) city events—I sniff them out amongst the pages of newspapers, the talk of passerby.
Loud, rushed, passing by—this city, this world. Everything that supposedly makes it easier—cell phones, email, IM—it all gets to be too much, clogs the day. It's as if we have to be productive every second. I've simply said no, this is not the way it's going to be. Being by ourselves, being silent, being—it's not a waste of time, though it's often treated as such.
So that's what I'm doing. To a society hung up on material outcomes, I'm wasting my time. In an environment where people seem afraid to experience by themselves, I am a loner. What do I have to show for the hours I spend wandering down these streets because something caught my eye, engaging strangers in conversation, or sitting in the grass reading a book? Not much externally, I guess. But I have chosen each one of those moments without input from anyone else. What trust in myself—I've never felt it so strongly before.
* * *
One job was ending, another was offered. On paper, this was "good." But that was it—on paper. I wanted to be writing my own papers, manufacturing the paper. This pressing need to face the world unencumbered, confront the unknown, create a different path, no matter how quirky or irresponsible others could label it. So I made the decision to take the summer off to write and frolic. I was pretty scared of giving up too much. Maybe I'm just plain lazy. But then it occurred to me, how many times in life are you in the position to structure your days according to whim? To follow the heart, what with "real life" getting in the way—not commonly possible, though loftily lauded. I have money saved, I got a place to stay—I can follow dirt roads that have no name if I do it now. It'd be irresponsible not to live this way when I can, right? Whose young life is this, anyway?
So I turned down the job. Riding the packed A train home from one of my last days in the office, I was feeling a little unsure of my decision. Heart and mind were still battling. I start reading the open book the man next to me is holding on his lap. "Our minds cannot easily compete with our emotional needs." Appropriate to the moment, so I take out my notebook and scribble it down.
"Are you a writer?" the man turns to me and asks.
"Yeah. Sorry, I was reading over your shoulder."
"It's OK, I'm a writer, too. I do the same thing."
B.T. had a wide smile and a few of his front teeth were missing. We talked about paper, the pen, and I gave him a list of places he could go in the city for readings as he was from out of town. He was an older guy, 50s or 60s, gruff voice. He was a poet, he made sure to clarify. I explained why I had copied down that line about the mind, emotional needs—I explained the whole bit. He laughed. "There's plenty of time to try things later in life if things don't work out now. It's good that you're choosing to write. Other people only wish they could take chances like that. I'm finally going to do that, too, after all these years."
So this summer I'm taking chances, on myself more than anything else. The more roads I see on my own, the more I'll have to tell you when I get back.
* * *
The subject line from an unfamiliar email address in my inbox a few days ago: "Poems from the subway guy." Three poems, pretty much the same—beautiful woman, heartbreak, why won't you let me love you, oh my angel. Not groundbreaking material, but how perfect it was—that BT believes he is a poet…and so he is. I've decided to believe in myself…so I do. Wow, in love with myself. A temporary hiatus, however superficial and staged it may be, to listen to my own thoughts. Listening as heat blankets a landscape of concrete and tar. Listening as amidst it all, flowers make their way through cracks, birds chirp alongside the insistent bachata music in the alleyway, and shade can always be found beneath skyscrapers.