One of the best things about New York is how accommodating it is. You can be any self you want: The city makes room. If you discover you're a trannie, why you get right on over to the bars and the boutiques and the blocks where the trannies live. You've woken up enraged (or are spending your life that way)? Freely wail on that limo for running over your toes. No one will be the least bit reprimanding; a small crowd may cheer. If you're feeling generous, in a mind to give away your heart, there are lost tourists to direct gently to Varick Street.
The city is an excellent sorter, after all, with a district for everything: dumplings, poetical theatre, chandeliers, high winds, used deep fryers, tefillin repair. So whatever you are, you can be it, and Very.
The only thing you can't be is sloppy. You've got to commit—not only to an identity, because it's work to get yourself all set up in new circles, but also to daily activities, because planning and executing them takes so much psychic energy. You can't, on your way to MOMA, decide instead to see an exhibit closing soon at the Natural History Museum. That requires two transfers, one of them at a subway station you hate, because the No.4 train comes to a stop there with a sound that can't be described, a real day-ruining sound, and you've got a migraine. Just for instance. There's also the fact that you planned to return the weird glass bowl you received as a wedding gift. You've got it in your bag, it weighs six pounds, you're not going to haul it to Fifth Avenue again. No. You're going to miss that show. Even if you come to your senses and simply leave the bowl on the subway platform for some grateful person with odd taste to find, you'll still miss that exhibit, because it would be impossible to get across town and back in time to meet your friend at that bar you picked on Third Avenue, and your cell phone is dying, you can't retrieve her number.
Often there is the sound of metal grinding against metal when you try to see even very good friends. It's because everyone's schedule is like a canal, with an elaborate system of locks. It's hard to change your routine in any way, even to bulge it out a bit on on side to make room for a playground meetup.
Now this doesn't sound like a big deal. It can be an advantage. You get focused. You become decisive, you pack your Union Square errands together into a single solid block, you make plans far in advance to see people. You do get to see art, if occasionally.
Somehow the manacled feeling get into my writing, though. It might be good for certain formalists, but I'm wildly frustrated by it.
Here in St Louis, you can make a plan, then change your mind; you can U-turn in the middle of the street, there’s room, every parking spot isn’t full. Pull right up to the art museum, take the elevator to the third floor, and ten minutes later you're in front of the most amazing painting by Eva Lundsager. A few minutes after that you're so close to a puffin you could stuff it into your purse. Such accessibility might not seem remarkable, either. But for me it's linked with a larger feeling of free play. Because my days have less stricture, and I'm not always thinking about how to get from here to there, my mind is freer to encounter and circle around ideas.
It's almost time to think about packing and returning to New York, though. My notebooks are fuller; my plan, when I get back, is to focus on revisions. Esther Smith (in the guise of Judy Garland, above) is looking on worriedly from the afterlife. She knew enough to stay here. But I'll make New York work somehow. Right?