This week we welcome guest blogger Joy Katz. Joy Katz is the author, most recently, of The Garden Room. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son and teaches poetry writing at The New School and NYU. Thanks, Joy. -- sdh
I have come to St Louis for the summer. From here, my life in New York seems a box I can’t possibly stuff myself back into. A diorama, with one glass wall to slide on and off. In it: light, shallow furniture; a plant with its leaves pressed against the wall; kitchen cabinets full of watchsprings; little, little crowds with bits of colored glass for eyes and tiny silver sneakers; a bit of playground peace in a lucky hour after rain. When you live in New York, and you write, say, or paint, or compose music, you slide the balsa cover over this box and get busy making art, with your hammer and tweezers. Then out you come, bigger than life, huge on the sidewalk, in your sharp hat and sneakers.
Lots of people asked why we (my husband and I, with the baby and the dog) were going to St Louis. For the summer. (There was always that full stop, because summer is the punchline. It’s hot in St Louis, if you don’t know it.)
If you say you’re moving to New York, no one will ask why. “How exciting!” people say, or they shyly admit, “I could never do that.” These responses are extremely gratifying. Moving to New York is like getting engaged to someone famous and foreign. Well, obviously you’re hooking up! You’ve got a tall, intimidating amour, older, with a hard-surfaced, solid glamour. Well done.
But on the eve of my departure from San Francisco, ten years ago, an acquaintance—lifetime resident of the West Village—said on the phone, “why are you moving to New York? It’s hard here.”
One: what did she mean, “hard here?” How could it be harder than San Francisco, a city just as expensive as New York, but with no vacant apartments, and with no parking spots, but the lousy BART, and just ten taxicabs? Two: Did I ask? I did not ask. I was moving to New York because I had worked there for two summers at Parnassus and discovered a city where everyone talked as fast as I did and walked as fast as I did. I had, I knew, found my people. They were anxious. Intense. They weren’t like the people anywhere else I had ever lived.
But before I left for Manhattan that first time, in graduate school, I had a couple of questions. I was going to be staying in the East Village, near Tompkins Square Park, and I needed to know, were there needles just, you know, everywhere? Could you not wear sandals? No, said my friend on the phone. She did not laugh at me. No, you can wear sandals. It’s all right.