Tuesday, July 15, 2008

An Odyssey

Not long ago, I accepted that my New York was gone. I'd left my Avenue B apartment on January 4th, 2001, with the intent of returning by Christmas after my whirlwind journey around the world.

But I hadn't come home. I'd moved to Australia with Turbo. Then we'd bought Henry the Ford and roamed the USA, then a stopover in NYC—sure, always a stopover—then back to Oz and New Zealand. Off to Sri Lanka. Back to the US, for a bit, but to JC rather than Avenue B. Antarctica, Spain, Bangkok, Tokyo, Alaska, researching campgrounds in Virginia and New Jersey. Uganda, Namibia, and a frantic epic journey—sometimes, but not always, a few steps ahead of my Herr Marlboro-inspired nightmares—from Cape Town to Kampala. Then Kuwait a month later, and finally Cairo.

Then home. Eight years later. To a home not my own, but rather Yancey's.

But home isn't home. Eight years is a lifetime for a city that reinvents itself constantly. During those eight years, the creeping gentry utterly crept. There are no more comfortable pockets for alienated artists, but there are many bistros and upscale coffee shops for the well-heeled and powerful.

I am neither well-heeled nor powerful. I fake it sometimes, pretending I belong here, though I have accepted that I would be happier elsewhere, perhaps in Portland, Cape Town, or Barcelona. I understand that my once-glorious Isle of Misfit Toys sports few misfits anymore. That I clean up all right, but will never be one of them, will never again be at home in the home I'd left behind. That the clean and optimistic—those with careers and responsibilities—ultimately have no idea of what to do with me when they introduce me to other clean, optimistic sorts. I imagine their internal dialogues. She's funny but she sure is weird.

Are these not my streets? Do I not have some measure of ownership in a region made safe for gentry by the presence of artists and writers some two decades back? But ultimately, I scurry back to JC, itself an outpost of old-timers who probably consider me an invading yuppie.

My curse is to stay, to patiently—or impatiently—wait for deliverance in the form of community. The other misfit toys must be hiding. They cannot all have moved away or be babysitting their offspring. And me, I perhaps foolishly made commitments to stay right here. Some involve large sums of cash. My cash.

I cannot leave. My traditional escape route—bolting for adventure—is cut off, me myself having chosen to snip my own tendons. I am an exile in my own home.

Then I read this insightful essay on exile by the head of the CUNY department where I am taking a writing workshop beginning in September.

I'd found it while googling a marvelous passage from his book. It was a reference to a poem about Ulysses, written by Cavafy. In it, Ulysses doesn't go back to Ithaca and Penelope. He's been gone too long. What is left for him there? Calypso says to Ulysses:

    Why spurn my home when exile is your home?

Perfect, I thought upon reading that passage. The story of Ulysses wrapped up neatly, but after his epic journey, could he really go home again? I yearn for my loss, voluntarily given up. I crave the company of my friends, since moved on. I long for the exchange of ideas, for creative partnerships, for the buzz that comes from wasting the afternoon talking utter shit with like-minded people.

    Your home's in the rubblehouse of time now,
    and you're made thus, to yearn for what you lose.


Amanda Castleman said...

You spank those vapid media-luvvies, kid. Don't let them rattle you, no matter how many purse-dogs invade your 'hood.

Terrific writing today, Ms Marie! Wish I hadn't read this before work ... why bother when I can't touch the power and depth here?

Sara Kocher said...

Community can be created.

Not easily, I admit, but it can. Maybe if you find places that might attract the other misfit toys, and then strike up conversations like Other Marie?

Or just come to LA and join all us other misfits here. Cat and I will take you out for margaritas.

babyphat523 said...

Reading this entry made myself and the hubby have THAT conversation again. We totally agree; New York is a very different place now, and not in a good way. The last bastions of what we loved about the city are being dissolved away by the terminally hip trust fund babies, Smith Barney frat boys & big box stores. Makes us very sad indeed.