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Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Time, Not a Place: A Weekend in NYC and Montclair

    When we first moved to Houghton, Graham promised me we'd come back to visit New York City "every couple of months at least." New York was the place where I became an adult. It was difficult for me to imagine a life without the daily struggle to find a seat on a crowded 6 train, the near-constant search for more affordable apartments or the mad rush up seventh avenue trying to get from my book selling job to an audition at Chelsea Studios. Although I was feeling worn out by a city that clearly didn't want me, I also assumed it would always be central to my life, a "home base" of sorts.
   It's true that when I first moved away, I missed the city constantly. Before leaving, I'd agonized over the decision for months. It sounds melodramatic but giving up this place that had always been a central part of the grand plan I had for my life was difficult and maybe a little emotionally traumatic. In fact, after three months in Houghton I went back to the city on my own for almost a month. (I was childless and living off of freelance writing income at the time which allowed for this kind of enormous flexibility.) It was too long really to be there on my own, surfing from one friend's couch to the next and living out of a suitcase when I was a married woman with a grown-up home. I still often feel guilty about leaving Graham on his own for so long particularly in a place where we knew so few people. In retrospect, I think it was selfish and inconsiderate of me, so I never did a long visit like that again. I committed to the new place we'd chosen, new jobs, and our new life which by that time was soon to include a baby.
   Anyway, big surprise: we rarely made it to NYC for visits after that--just once together for my 22nd birthday. I've returned alone (or with Gus) every fall since then, each time promising I'll make my visits more frequent in the coming year.
    Last weekend, I took an overnight bus from Rochester to midtown Manhattan. I drank coffee and read a book in Bryant Park while the sun came up. I thought about how strange it was to feel more at home on a park bench in a city that constantly smells like a sewer surrounded by strangers than in a comfortable farmhouse surrounded by beautiful countryside and people who love me. I took the train uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as soon as it opened for the day and visited my favorite exhibits alone in near silence, something I wish I'd done more often when I went to college just a few blocks away. The rest of the day included coffee and meals with old friends, taking ballet classes, and feeling guilty for leaving my husband and son alone for an entire weekend (#momguilt).

looking up from Bryant Park in the morning
   At the end of the day, I took the train out to visit and stay with an old friend who now lives in Montclair, NJ. I've never been the biggest fan of New Jersey, so I was surprised that I absolutely loved this town. Even though I was exhausted from 24 hours of traveling, city walking, and dancing, we went out an explored the neighborhood. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe and having dessert at 10 o'clock at night while catching up with an old and dear friend was honestly the highlight of the weekend for me. When you find a friend you can really listen to and share things with openly, hold onto him or her, because those friendships are the best.
       Saturday, I didn't even feel the need to go back into the city. Instead, I took Pilates at a studio near my friend's apartment, explored the town a little more, and caught an incredible dance performance nearby. Although I did do more city activities on Sunday before catching an afternoon bus back to Rochester, I realized on this trip that I miss a time in my life rather than a place. When I crave city life it's because I'm missing the feeling of possibility I had as a seventeen-year-old moving to Manhattan to start "real life" in the fall of 2007.  I miss being able to walk down the street and meet one of my (few but close)  friends for a cup of coffee. I miss the sense that any crazy, wild, life shaking thing can happen to you if only you're in the right place at the right time.  I feel now like I was so eager to grow up and settle down that I didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities I had by getting to go to school in such a diverse place with so many resources. But that's just nostalgia and hindsight stewing together to alter my memory. I know that I ultimately made the right decisions, that the NYC transplant life was not for me and that this life is what God wanted for me. Still, I feel a mad desire to live closer to that imagined potential future.

Maybe New Jersey will be seeing a lot more of me in the future.

There's something I never thought I'd say.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

You are Not Your Job

I have trouble separating my identity from my job. The majority of my childhood and adolescence were spent in pursuit of a single goal--dancing professionally. As a privileged middle class girl growing up in the twenty-first century, I was told I could accomplish anything if I worked hard enough, so I set my sights on earning a living by doing something  I loved, something I found valuable. There was no question in my mind that I was destined to make a living from my art, not from a so-called "survival job." It was horribly narrow-minded and elitist of me.
Real life, as is so often the case, turned out not to be so straightforward. I've succeeded at a number of career-related pursuits as an adult and failed at others. I've worked some as a performer but not in the way I envisioned. I've been so married to the mantra, "Do what you love!" that I've not even considered other alternatives. Miya Tokumitsu wrote recently about the problematic nature and inherent elticsm of the "Do What You Love" philosophy and, after years of making my passion my work, I agree with her analysis.
    Certainly, I've been fortunate and extremely privileged to have the luxury of pursuing freelance performing and writing as well as small business ownership. I've also made sacrifices of time and personal financial security to do so---my husband and I lived below the state poverty line for the first four years of our marriage and still have precarious months and weeks on a regular basis. But my experience is still one of privilege. I'm white, college educated and from a middle/upper-middle class background. My parents and immediate family members almost all hold bachelor's or master's degrees and are employed. I have a social safety net that's allowed me to try to "do what I love" that so many people don't have.
      In this "do what you love" culture that places higher value on jobs done for "passion" than for financial need or work's own sake, it's easy to let our identities be all about what we "do." When you're self-employed, it's even easier to fall into this trap.  Often (as in my case) you and your business are literally the same legal entity. I'm working daily to remind myself that I am not my job. Neither are you. Painting murals for a living doesn't mean you have any richer an inner life than a waitress. Running a tech start-up doesn't make you any more capable of loving others than an assembly line worker at a factory. Owning a dance studio doesn't make me a better or worse person or necessarily mean I'm any more or less successful than if I were working in any other field.

It's okay for work to be work and not passion. Maybe it's even a  healthier approach.