"'That's not a gift,' I said, but Martin explained to me patiently that it was, was, in fact, the sort of gift Ilsa would love." The Bigness of the World, Lori Ostlund
I've made my way through the "interlude." Now what? Unable to return to the parameters I set myself for the first several months of posting, yet unsure where to go next, I've decided on a compromise: I'll use the twelve letters I didn't use in the first posting titles as the first letter of the titles for the next twelve entries. Same format as original: a photo paired with a quote from the work of others that has touched me in some vital way.
The letters are e, h, j, k, n, o, q, u, v, x, y, and z.
By the time I moved out of New York, I’d lived on my own or with friends in twelve different apartments and one house. I lived in my first apartment only for two weeks; the Italian landlady got one look at my black friends and politely but firmly told me she’d changed her mind about the lease. After New York, another seven different living arrangements. I’m an expert at packing; I know how disruptive and annoying the process of moving is. Yet I still get a thrill looking at pictures of apartments for rent or houses for sale online. I can still trick myself into falling asleep by imagining furnishing an empty apartment, usually one I know well. For this post, I have been trying to remember a recurrent dream about houses that have extra rooms in them, rooms I’d forgot were there. Occasionally in these dreams I am touring other people through them- a metaphor for writing? The extra rooms generally are lush, neat, and all in a row on either side of a spacious corridor. The main feature is the extra space: there are places as yet unexplored. I always wake up from these dreams feeling happy and hopeful. The funny thing to me now is that in trying to recall them, I got fixated on which house or apartment it was that had inspired the dreams in the first place. I’m not even sure there was one place in particular. Nostalgia literally means the pain of the journey home. For me, it’s the excitement of discovering the place I dwell in is larger than I thought. The photo was taken in the backyard of a house I rented with two other roommates in Providence. The egg-like object is a stone.
This “interlude” project draws to a close with the letter “w,” and I have to say, I’m sad. Finding the words for these fourteen posts has been a walk back into memory, a wrestling with concision and juxtaposition. Also the necessity of courage, saying some things I didn’t think I could say in print. Turns out it wasn’t so bad after all, like drawing a long deep breath and then letting it go.
Now I have to decide whether to return to the blog format I began with or try something new once again. Talk about extra rooms beyond the original floor plan.
We rode the New York City subway system regularly when we were growing up. My mother took decades’ worth of rides on the L from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back. She was a secretary, and worked for a real estate company, lawyers, an investment firm. She wore makeup, had her hair done, and dressed up in attire one might now wear to a fancy cocktail party or a wedding. My sister and I infrequently went with her to work. Or we took the trains to the beach. Or to a play, or museum, or shopping at one of the many department stores in downtown Brooklyn or the city. As an adult, I rode the subway to visit grandparents in Flatbush and Coney Island. I rode to Hunter College. Often during rush hour I had to force my way onto the overstuffed car. I recall standing on a crowded platform reviewing material for an astronomy course that fulfilled my science requirement. That review earned me an A, as the question, about some astral life cycle, was on the exam. I loved riding the trains. Never got motion sick the way I did on buses and cars. The rocking lull, the roaring song, the underground journey from station to station, light to dark, dark to light, nothingness then somethingness then nothingness shrieking past the windows, the sudden lurch to a stop, the creeping acceleration, was as good as a best friend who always wants to hold hands. There was an endless variety of bodies holding themselves in an endless variety of ways. Often it was difficult to stay awake; on many a ride I slept the sleep of the dead, while honing the twin skills of not falling out of the seat or missing the stop. For awake times, there was an endless supply of reading material in the form of ads that ran the length of either side of every car. The photo is of the piece of framed subway art, from the time when art on the trains was a thing and my sister knew someone who knew someone. My severely handicapped, mentally retarded uncle also rode the subway. He rode on weekdays to a job in the northernmost part of the Village. I think he folded packing boxes. He rode for free, was known by and knew most of the token collectors by name, and could navigate the system like he’d designed it. He was loud and physically aggressive at times with my sister and me. I never ran into him on the train, though I worried I would. When we were little, our mother told us if either of us ever got separated from her on the train, we should get off at the next stop and wait there. She would come back and find us. I don’t know why, but I was never scared that would happen, and it never did. I wish I could remember the first time I rode the subway by myself. It must really have been something.