Archive for June, 2007

How to Survive Your First Year in New York City

June 7, 2007  |  poetry  |  5 Comments

(work in progress) 

I Summer

Immediately in the city everything is just as hard as you’ve always heard it is: the disgusting humid summers. Finding an apartment. Getting a job. Locating friends. But the subways become easy, once you get the hang of it, and Manhattan is comprehensible, once you orient yourself. Be careful not to over-orient: you will change.

Invest in an air-conditioner. August will be brutal.

Distract yourself by going to every Brooklyn roof party you can find. Ask everyone for their New York survival tips. One boy with great hair says “a solid pair of skater shoes” ‘cause they’re so durable to the constant new relationship of your feet to concrete. A German girl who’s lived here ten years says, “an expensive, fancy pair of headphones” that she puts on before she leaves the house and takes off only when she gets to where she’s going. An older woman from the West Coast says “nature shows” remind her of the earth and essential oils give her that sense memory. A young queer boy says “a day bag, a perfect day bag,” with pockets for all the survival tools you need for the city: book, notebook, pens, subway map, Manhattan map, metro card, water bottle, wallet, hand sanitizer, tissues, smokes, cell.

Search everywhere for these tools. Your search will teach you the city. Do not stop until you find them.

II Fall

When the leaves start to become undone and summer’s oppression begins to unravel and the tourists leave, go to the park. Buy a skateboard or roller blades or a bike or a Frisbee. Borrow a dog.  Promenade the West Village with a pretty girl, any pretty girl. Fall in love, that’ll help.  Best if she knows the city better than you and can take you to her favorite Mexican restaurant, dive bar, dance club.

This is good. Keep yourself occupied. But be careful not to get too comfortable in her world: you won’t be there long. Do not assume you will get to keep anything from her, other than the memories. You are still making your own New York. Join some organizations, make some friends, make some art, take up time. There is so much to be done here.

Keep trying to figure out what you’re doing here. Once you figure out what you’re doing here, you will know how long it will take to do it, and then you’ll know when you can leave. But you won’t know until you know. And it always takes longer than you think.

III Winter

By the time the first snow falls, you will have an idea of what your own New York looks like. Re-read Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York and remember that it is only after your favorite Thai restaurant becomes a coffee shop that the city will begin to show you its ghost.

This is a good thing. But winter is a hard time here, and you will loose two of the four of the following: your job, your apartment, your community, or love. It is hard to hold more than two for very long in this city. Watch the New Yorkers, they have these four balls in the air constantly but rarely touch more than two at a time.

You may loose the girl. The one whose hair swirls, whose breath you feel all the way to your toes. This will hurt. That’s okay. Feel it.

The girl you want isn’t in New York anyway, the girl you want would never live in New York. She’s too tender, sensitive to the overstimulation, just like you. But you can take it, for a little while. You can learn to put the armor on, and then take it off again.

This is how New York makes you strong.

IV Spring

When you’ve finally given up on the trees, they will start greening again. It is time for a few more things to hop into place. Your sister will become your roommate and you will learn so much about your childhood. You will begin to watch and understand how what you take into your body effects you. You get a friend, a best friend, suddenly, an instant connection, someone you call when something big happens, someone who is usually free for beers at the pub on the weekends.

This city may exhaust you, but you will never exhaust it.

a study of my own character

June 5, 2007  |  journal entries  |  2 Comments

Sometimes we all wonder how things come to be. A chain of events: A leads to B leads to C leads to Z. Each life is made up of big decisions and each day is made up of a million little decisions. What shirt to wear, what street to walk on, what to eat for lunch. Now all of these seemingly inconsequential choices may change your life forever. But who can handle that kind of responsibility? It would paralyze you to think about it. So you have to trust your instinct, what the Greeks might call your character. You better pray to whatever god you believe in that your character knows what the hell it’s doing.

- opening monologue from the 1997 film Playing God

I’ve been thinking a lot about character lately. Not only because one of my long-term goals, especially now that I’m getting back in touch with my own life path and am less preoccupied with throwing all my emotional/mental/creative/romantic/leisure energy to someone else, is to write fiction – by which I mean novels. More than one. And I love character studies, it’s one of the reasons I love writing, reading, psychology, drama, humans, living.

That sounds cheesy, perhaps, but it’s true. Sometimes I realize how much all my interests come together to aid me in what I really believe is my own life’s ‘higher purpose’: writing. And encouraging personal expression. (I have lots more to say about that, but I’ll save it for another time. Most if it is still formulating anyway.)

So, I’ve been reading Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins, and it’s not just any actor from which to learn these secrets, but the famous Stanislovsky “method acting” approach. Very interesting stuff, I tell ya.

(I’m also reading Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose which I’d also highly recommend. Trying to keep myself inspired literarily. It seems to be working, though I haven’t been generating much work that I would call particularly notable.)

And I think I’ve also mentioned that I’m in therapy, and have been seeing the same therapist since mid-April or so. I really like the idea of long-term therapy, but I’ve never actually been with a therapist longer than a few months. I tend to get discouraged because I’m pretty good at being able to put together a narrative for my life, I’m pretty good at drawing my own conclusions and making my own connections, which I think is what most people get out of therapy. So I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what it is that I could get out of therapy, how to approach it, what the ‘arc’ of the story with my therapist would look like.

Combined with this recent, more serious literary focus of mine, I’ve begun to see therapy as a form of character study for my own self. The point isn’t so much to change myself, at least not at this stage. The point is first to watch my own stories, to listen to my own stories, to notice the patterns and recurrences and sticking points and issues and whatever else might come up. To begin to bring to the forefront some of my unconscious character traits, the ones that I am so far inside of that I don’t notice.

You know, like how you have to leave your home country – or, hell, your home state – to begin to understand and notice what the localized culture was where you grew up? I have to have some new perspective, a fresh glance, at my own self, in order to get an accurate gauge of my character.

I think getting a new perspective on your own character, re-setting or re-defining your own character, is why people like falling in love so much – or, at least, maybe it’s why I like falling in love. I get to tell my best life stories all over again. I get to explore and express my views and outlooks and ideas about life and love and worship and desire in slightly new, sightly refined ways each time. I get to see someone else’s life presented to me in a beautiful way, and get to shine my own life back at her. It’s a personal study of character: mine, and someone else’s, someone who is particularly interesting, and intriguing.

Problem is, I suppose, that sometimes those character studies are terribly inaccurate. What we present is a selective view of ourselves, of course. Sometimes we present ourselves under false pretences. Sometimes we have even fooled ourselves into believing that we are something we aren’t. Sometimes those guises can be kept up for a long time.

And sometimes, someone else can seem so appealing, so shiny and authentic and intelligent and connected to me, deeply, that I begin to believe her, rather than believing myself.

I know, I know: you all have told me that I’ve listened to myself all along. And you’re not wrong, I know I’ve been voicing my suspicions from the very beginning of this relationship. But there’s still something there I can’t quite put my finger on. Because, see, despite my voicing my concerns, I was so high, soaring so high and felt so limitless with Callie. My own character developed in serious, shattering ways, ways that I feel like I’ve been waiting for for years. In some places, I was willingly torn down, willingly built back up. In other places, she attempted to tear me down and I wouldn’t allow it – there we had conflict. Yet other places in me she put a springboard underneath and I flew, I soared, I rocketed up to a new level, felt things I never expected to feel.

Maybe I’m being vague here. I’m talking about sex, and gender. I’m talking about the ways that I felt like such a powerful, strong, capable top with her. The ways that I was able to take control, harness desire, my own and hers. The ways that I was butch. The hundreds of tiny moments in our interactions where she was femme and I was butch, and I made so much sense, I made so much sense to myself, sometimes for the first time. I’ve always done these things – I’ve always taken care of the women around me, my friends and family, I’ve always been the one to open doors and flag down the waiter and refill a water glass, but suddenly it had purpose, it had reason, it had some sort of intense sex and gender play behind it, and it was so, so hot.

I should be grateful to her for all that growth in me, but it’s still hard to actually feel it, not just know that I should feel it. I’m still too angry. It was as if the lenses all came into alignment over the last four weeks or so of our relationship and then everything became painfully clear.

And there’s still something here I can’t let go of. I hate that she continuously bubbles up to my conscious thoughts when I’m doing nothing, walking down the street, reading a book, sitting on the train. But there’s something underneath all of this that I haven’t figured out yet, and so I haven’t let go.

What is it?

Something to do with my own character. Something to do with figuring out who I am in the world, who I am as an adult, a woman, a caucasian queer/homosexual/lesbian/dyke, an American, a butch, a top. She helped me make shifts in my very identity make-up, shifts I’ve always wanted to make, but she changed other things too – and now I am having difficulty navigating the world, making all those millions of tiny daily life decisions unconsciously and trusting my character to pull through, because I’m so skeptical of what she has left me with.

How much of my changing was conscious, and intentional? How much of it was for me, and how much was for her (under false pretenses)? How do I figure out what she has changed in me? Sometimes I fear it has run deep, deep within, where I gave her so much permission to go. Where are the places that I wanted to change, where are the places she changed for her own gain?

So, I am beginning an official character study of myself. Through therapy, through writing. I’ve always done it through writing, really, but now I’ll just call it “official” and maybe it’ll get me somewhere new.

Meanwhile, like the buddhists and yogis say, I’m still trying to remember to breathe into where I’m already at, and accept it.

ready to take flight

June 3, 2007  |  journal entries  |  5 Comments

My sister willingly sketched the tattoo out on my shoulder with a permanent marker, and I love the way it looks. This will happen this summer.I have not dreamed of her the last few nights. I barely thought of her today. I did speak about her last night to a friend, but that was partially because I was tipsy (mojitos are so perfect for hot Saturday afternoons) and partly because this friend had seen me through this relationship, from the beginning, and had a lot of useful things to say about love and me in love and what it was like to witness the two of us together.

Here’s the thing. I love being in love. Love it. That seems like a silly thing to say because, duh, doesn’t everybody love being in love? But the truth is, no, not really. Some people run from it. Some people don’t seem to know how to recognize it when they have it. I have the advantage of being a queer woman in this case, since us dykes are known for our u-haul instantaneous declarations of forever, though there are plenty of us who are not like that. I, however … seems like I am one of them.

I’ve been thinking about it, and here’s a bit of my relationship history:

14-19: Serious relationship with a boy, the only boy I’ve ever been with. I think I’ve referred to him as “Mike” here on Sugarbutch (I should make a post to keep track of names). My bisexuality was never a secret; at first, he loved that I was really into women, but as the relationship went on it became less about him and more about me potentially leaving him to be with women, which I eventually did.

19-23: Came out as queer, went back to college, generally single. A few relationships in this time lasted longer than a month, and plenty of scars to show for it. But this whole time I was in love with my best friend. that’s a long story, of course, but the whole time we were in these deep emotional negotiations about how we’d “eventually” get together and “eventually” be perfect for each other, when in fact I was being strung along. I believed her every time.

23-27: With The Ex-Girlfriend, who is a semi-frequent character on Sugarbutch.

27/28: Six months with Callie. Our relationship overlapped with the Ex-Girlfriend’s, as you may remember.

So really, aside from those few first years of my queer adult self (which only half count, since all my emotional/romantic energy was going to one particular girl), I haven’t been single in my entire sexual history.

See what I mean, that I love being in love? I do. I can’t help but be a poet; I am so interested in the inner emotional lives of people, I love to have that access to one particular beautiful person in intimate ways. I am tempering those impulses in me to sift through my phone book, my email and myspace and friendster contacts, and find a date, someone to flirt with, someone I can reach inside of for a while.

I’m beginning to take pictures again. That’s one of the first things that seems to slide off the table when my schedule is otherwise full: spending time with myself, just looking, seeing things, objects, people, places, my own face and skin. I miss that, it’s nice to have it back.

I’m also writing more. This past week I’ve been in a creative overdrive, writing stories and poems that I’ve wanted to write for a long time, years, in some cases, and all sorts of things are coming out of me. I’m remembering my talents. Using them to make sense of things. Thank god.

There is so much more to discover about me. I love what I’m finding when I take myself out, ask myself questions, hear my own stories. I have more ideas and themes and impulses and inner workings in me than this single life of mine can hold. No wonder I felt so much pressure in that last relationship – I had no time for myself, and it takes a lot of time to pursue all of my interests.