the one where i feel like Edward Hopper's "Automat"
Dear New York,
I don't know what to do with myself.
Here I sit at our kitchen table: a gloomy 5pm, I burn the remnants of our old candle, Maple sitting across of me, and a glass of lime-flavoured sparkling water holding onto whatever carbonation it hasn't lost in this week of neglect. Myself? I feel just the same.
I've spent the last few hours on our couch reading a recent book about you: Michael Kimmelman's The Intimate City, having just recently picked a signed copy at the Strand's opening event with the author himself. Attending with Adam made me feel as if I had accomplished enough in my life to admit this event as a "regular date night in my life in New York." Alas, Adam and I sat patiently through the audience's questions that said more about them than the book, while dreaming of Montreal's The Word and how perfectly enough that bookstore was for us and the life that surrounded us then — but that's beside the point.
The truth is that I do not know what to do with myself when I am not at my 9-to-6 work and when I have no friends to see, and Adam is working away on his studies, and Maple is occupied with her 6th nap of the day. I sit at our kitchen table with candlelight on the wall and a faint laptop-glow on my fingers hoping something will happen. (What happens is I get up, walk 3, 4, 5 feet, and type at our couch instead.)
It's not specific to you, New York. I haven't known what to do with myself even before moving to this island of people, noise, and everything but nothing. Don't you have 10 ballets opening, 20 exhibitions showing, 30 musicians playing in just 40 metres radius from me? You surely must have someone else like me: past, present, or future even. — Yes, it’s true! Edward Hopper lived just 5 minutes from here, and I swear to you I’ve never passed a mirror as clearer as his “Automat.” Just tell me what you tell your other residents these days, tell me how they get around to doing things. Now that I live with you, I could do with your distractions, too.
I never really knew what to do with myself. As far as I can remember, wherever I've lived, these moments would come up quite often and, through two decades of preparation, I've only discovered (3) strategies to cope:
or, I write.
These follow in order of "bearable" to "completely hopeless, better luck next time." Many times, I'd even go beyond writing (where the English language does not even give me the words I need to say) and instead sit solemnly and glum somewhere (sometimes the couch, more often the floor) wondering if I was the only human being who hasn't yet figured out how it is to live.
I have these vivid memories of being 5, 6, 7 having just come home from school. I would be showered, fed, and essentially primed to play for all I cared. My only remaining duties were to brush my teeth and go to bed in due time. Until then, I had 2, 3, 4 hours to spend. Definitely, there are many memories of playing around with Tamara in our imaginary carpets-in-the-clouds land or going to the park with Baba and seeing who could kick the ball the furthest beyond the palm trees with ripened dates. But the vivid memories I write of here are the ones where the weight of this emotion would be intolerable that, to this day, there are moments where I feel the exact pain and I imagine how much I would've scared my parents had I known the exact words to say then, as a 5, 6, 7 year-old.
I speak of the lack of desire to do anything, the complete omission of joy, fun, or excitement, and the dreadful weight of knowing I am unable to do anything but lay down and watch these free hours run away in silence and misunderstanding. At least then, when I didn't know what to do with myself, I had my engineer Baba watching MythBusters or something of the sort on our black leather couch, or my artist Mama sewing pants of ours in her studio of half-complete paintings left to dry while changing our diapers, and since left drying, waiting. Now, I’m given my heart, guts, nails, and skin on the table, to be rearranged and put back in my human being, and I have no idea where to start, where the “feelings” receptor goes, where the “functioning” machinery belongs, so I sit and watch and hope it figures itself out at some point. All I know is the feeling of an internal dislocation, too.
In a family home, there is always something to be preoccupied with. I can sit by another living being and, momentarily, assume theirs. In due time, when the real world's duties beg forth, I'd retreat back into myself, brush my teeth, and go to sleep praying that tomorrow would be a better day and I'd wake up into myself, not outside of myself.
Now that I live with you New York, I rely solely on you.
I go round and round my own head, my own thoughts, wondering what it is that I am trying to say, to whom, for what purpose. The rain has started outside and Maple has gotten up and back to her 7th nap of the day. The candle still burns, the water is still flat, and I am still alone, in silence, having written about nothing. I'm neglecting something, something has neglected me, I cannot find my words today, and I have no idea what to do with myself.
What to do in such a situation? I live, I guess, I live here with you.