New York State of Mind

For the past several days, I’ve had a hankering for New York City.

This happens to me, inexplicably, every now and then, usually in early fall or late spring.  I felt the hankering coming on recently, when “New York State of Mind” became my internal iPod’s constant soundtrack; it’s as if Billy Joel decided to set up his piano in my memory bank, refusing to leave unless I booked myself a flight from ATL to JFK.  (He hasn’t broken me yet.)  I’ve also been reading The New York Times in earnest – more thoroughly and with more interest than usual, and this has only intensified my curiosity and desire for the place: for its hustle; its literature; its rhythm.

Still, I can’t really explain this lingering New York want.  I’ve never lived there and have only actually visited twice.  I could not, if plunked down in the middle of Central Park, find my way to Times Square.  There are no favorite New York City sandwich shops in my memory, no quaint ice-skating-hand-in-hand-at-Rockefeller-Center moments in my past, no warm flashbacks of shopping in the city’s grand department stores with my mother, no great personal literary moments recorded at the New York Public Library.

But I do like the idea of such things, and I think that’s what keeps the hankering going: my life, imagined, in New York City. For the past few weeks, as I’ve felt my creativity take on volalitility not unlike our current stock market’s, I imagine that living within a community of writers, and among so many publishing giants, would keep me afloat.

When in a New York state of mind, I begin making excuses for the sluggishness of my Atlanta-based pen: if I lived in New York I would believe in (and be surrounded by believers in) my writing; the cooler weather/walking/cultural wealth would inspire me; if I lived in New York, I would be more hip and in the know, steps away from my (so far) very encouraging agent, and in the midst of general excitement. I spend valuable free time imagining paid writing jobs on subjects both literary and creative, museum days for Claire, runs in Central Park with Ivy, nights out in some great NY restaurant with Andrew –  and Billy Joel sings on and on.

But what I need is not New York.  I do not have, as one friend puts it, “itchy feet” for anywhere, really; we have a nice yard here, and no traffic to speak of on our surface streets, and it is quiet, which is, perhaps the most vital necessity to my concentration and creativity.  Like the imagined great office space and the imagined great book deal which, in my imagination, contribute so significantly to my creativity, the New York state of mind is just a diversion, allbeit a happy one.  It is so tempting to imagine myself anywhere but here in the midst of times that are challenging, or too day-in-day-out.  I wonder if the whole world doesn’t do that to a certain extent.  Maybe we are all living dual lives in our minds.

As I switched my closet from summer to winter this weekend, just before the hankering for NY hit, I came across a black cashmere sweater I bought just before my last trip to the city.  It was on sale, but still felt like a luxurious purchase, one worthy of New York in the fall.  But in the end, I think it did nothing to make me look anything but hopelessly Southern – in New York for a weekend, with no real sense or desire for direct belonging.

And so, I find myself reassured somewhat: I am who I am, and where I should be; however temporarily the cultural outcroppings of [the imagined] New York life woo me, they’ve got only peripheral bearing on my creative aims and successes.  Billy Joel, too, will fade in time. As he goes, I just hope he will leave with me some inspiration.



De-Clutter Mind Map

Originally uploaded by creativeinspiration

A month or two before Claire was born, Andrew and I accepted an invitation to travel to the Turks & Caicos islands with some friends who had won a vacation there at a silent auction. The trip was set for October of this year, and surmising that we would be way ready to have a vacation away from the baby by then, we booked our flights (with travel insurance), crossed our fingers that my mother would not chicken out of keeping an infant for an entire week, and patted each other on the back (prematurely) for claiming some time in paradise for ourselves.

Then, Claire was born. Swaddle blankets, diapers, pajamas, and plush toys stuffed with rattles mounted and overflowed in our small house. We made peace with bulky plastic contraptions that only Claire loved, and we surrendered to the realities of excess tupperware, bottle parts, and tiny socks.

Months passed.

In September, two weeks before our planned trip, I realized that I could not find my passport. Anywhere. At first, I thought there was no cause for alarm: it would turn up. But after casually looking through the drawers of our coffee table, a couple of rarely-used jewelry boxes, and my make-shift office, I could feel the tension creeping in, my old grad-school theme song, “Under Pressure,” throbbing through my brain.

Soon, my passport-finding efforts intensified. Drawers were emptied, closets undone. I scoured Claire’s room, thumbing through stacks of onesies and a crop of board books. I cleaned out and reorganized our (overflowing) linen closet, finding a set of sheets I’d been missing for years. I sifted through almost every book I own. Meanwhile, I reorganized our kitchen shelves, tossed outdated salad dressing from the refrigerator and donated a large bag of canned goods to our local food pantry. Still, no passport. I began to wonder if, in the throes of new motherhood, I’d tossed it, or slipped it inbetween a stack of diapers, or stuck it in some book on pregnancy that I’d returned or given away.

In the midst of this crisis, a new, utterly undeniable crisis emerged, a crisis of Too Much Stuff. Suddenly, our little house felt chock-full of unnecessary items, overflowing with things that might be obvious re-gifts had we the pluck to carefully wrap and gift them; things that look dated (and not in the newly-popular retro way); things for which we have no more use, or that we have loved and used sufficiently enough to sell for $1 or less; new things, even, that take up our limited closet, under-the-bed and in between space; baby things of every imagined material, color and function; and, of course, books, loads and loads of books, read, digested and pining for new homes.

As I wracked my brain for the potential hiding place of my desperately needed passport, I also began hatching plans for a yard sale. Like someone half-mad, I wandered aimlessly around our house, sighing, opening drawers I’d already sifted through more than once, and, with a scowl and a disgruntled air, slammed it shut … but not before dropping a never-used leatherette photo album or outmoded Christmas candy dish into a paper bag – the beginning of my yard sale stash.

I realized that my entire life had begun to feel this way: that the stuff I really cared about and needed to find had become tangled up in a coffee table drawer stuffed with last year’s Christmas cards, several cords to unknown electrical devices, pens, a couple of odd napkin rings, random photos, a barely-used Martha Stewart envelope making template, blank paper, playing cards and a quarter. And if found, the lost part(s) of me was in serious danger of being lost again upon being found – in the bedroom underneath a stack of overflowing (but folded!) laundry, in my office within the stacks of reading material meant for research on my pending book project, in Claire’s toy bin, or even in the grocery store.

It was clear: no vacation was ever more needed than this one – the one I would not be going on unless I found my Passport.

At the last possible moment, just before calling in my Passport to paradise as lost or stolen, it appeared – squashed in a jewelry box I’d looked in first, and at least five times more during my search, just where I thought it “should” have been all along.

The lessons in this for me were many: the first, of course, was that I would no longer trust myself with my Passport – I’ve now entrusted it to Andrew, who is much more organized than I, and never loses anything. Secondly, I pulled out the calendar and made a date for a yard sale extravaganza this spring (it’ll take me that long to sift through all the stuff we need to sell). Third – and perhaps most important – I took heed of the symbolism in this: that the thing we most need to find is often right in front of us, straight ahead, just where it should be. Within all the tangled up junk in my brain, my misplaced motivations, my scattered priorities and shaky misgivings lies that which I’ve been looking for all along: to write, and be happy, and to live a life full of family and purpose.

So now I’m back from vacation, slowly untangling myself from the stacks of laundry and the cluttered drawers. Stay tuned. Let’s hope it will last.