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.