Tag: Times Square

Writing Inside (And Outside)


Grad school has left little time or energy to write (/think / dream) for myself, in my own space and in my own way. Inspiration’s been backed up, dried up, squished, smushed, almost forgotten. It hasn’t been a good feeling.

But a recent exercise in something called “intracranial” journalism (another term for stream-of-consciousness writing) got things flowing (or, semi-flowing) again. It was like putting on a favorite nightie found at the back of the closet -an experience not altogether foreign, what with the huge move back this past August.

After some nice encouragement to continue exploring this genre, I wanted to share my first formal attempt with readers. I’m starting to re-think my place lately – in journalism, in arts, in social media, even in NYC -and seem to keep circling back to finding a spot where I can integrate all my passions. Maybe this is a first step? You decide.

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The green jewels of salad leaves, the ruby red of berries, oil gleaming and dancing with the salty-sweet balsamic river, extra sweater and out the door, whooshing down elevator and clomping across lino lobby, footsteps echoing off ancient tile. Small hands wrapped around hot tea in purple tin, quick broad steps down a drum-filled street, to more steps, NYPD peering down stairs, badges glinting against the orange-red setting sun. One more down, another set of stairs, another… and another. Grime, grub, a million days and a million sweating bodies, a million sad bored faces, tracing and trudging over cold concrete and still, hot air. Over right, over left. Take the M, don’t take the M. Wait. And wait. Wait.

Headlights. Hope. A quick trip. Lower back yowl. Empty seat. Relief. Glum silence and squeaking brakes. Elbowing past ladies in heels and men in too-tight suits, the shiny shrieking harpies of neon beckoning, a shrine of Kodak and Samsung, of Annie and Once, of Big Macs and sunglasses. The land of the free, the home of the brave.

Follow the voices. Follow the music. Follow what your soul is telling you to do, where you’re being pulled… by God? By light? By love? By nostalgia sentiment qua qua qua divinity in denim smirking at you from a vintage steering wheel in a stupid youth misspent and half-forgotten? Let’s say it was magic, always the magic, the silent, loud, calm, chaotic wordless wonder of this… this grand Russian madness, this functioning chaos, this opera, of cars and buses and tourists and fans and lights, winking, beckoning…  and red chairs set up in rows, red carpets set up in rows, you’re royalty, come sit down, come listen.

Tatiana’s writing a letter, she’s berating herself, she thinks she can convince him, she can change his mind… she can’t change his mind of course, we all know what’s coming, but the music… the sound, Tchaikovsky’s wall of gorgeous vibrant sound washes over the assembled, the bypassers in suits frown and pause, looking up, around, then straight ahead, cocking head at that square with the singing bodies and the big dresses, the men with muttonchops and the fake falling snow. That grand, gorgeous sound.

There’s a scramble for seats, mittened hands holding steaming cups of hot chocolate, it’s so cold now, but it’s so hot… the sound is coming like a gush of joy, of grief, of relief, of youth and hope and a full, fat embrace of life and all its painful gut-pulling glory… even Elmo stops, Cooke Monster stops, Spider Man stops, Batman stops, everything and everyone absolutely stops… and … and… and… surges, gushing… moving, feeling, flowing, dancing, breathing, fucking, eating, drinking, waving, walking… walking away… but you’re not.

You know why you’re here, not even the cold could keep you away. Nothing will. Nothing could. Nothing else matters.

Noise And Motion

Trying to write about a litany of amazing experiences is like trying to file spaghetti bolognese by ingredient -after it’s cooked and on your plate.

Friday night I attended Monodramas at the New York City Opera. Then I had a great meal, met some great people, and walked through a curiously-quiet Times Square. Saturday I went to the legendary Strand Books, and later explored the Lower East Side with a local friend. Today I heard another friend sing at a favorite spot on the Upper West Side, and on the way there, chatted about the wonders of Bukowski with a fellow commuter.

Together these things seem unremarkable, but… trying to put them into some kind of order, and sense, parsing out their colors, textures, sounds, meanings, the small spaces of light between the blocks of firm monolithical EVENTS… is hard. Such efforts demand a certain commitment of time and energy and availability of mind and spirit and fingers, to sit, think, contemplate, and type. Time isn’t always on my side.

New York is swallowing me up, and I’m enjoying being in the throes of its guts, thrown this way and that, against hardship, wellship, friendship and relationship. I want to sit down and try to make sense of all this, slowly, carefully, and against the grain of everything New York demands. I love the fast rhythm, but I like the slow numbers too, and I have to mind the splinters and dirt while I’m at it. Never mind the glam, here’s bare feet, dry hands, red eyes and low voice. Add a glass of red, Sinatra on the stereo, and a room with a view -or at least access to a great, busy street – and I’ll truly feel I have arrived. Until then, I’m on input mode.

Fine, Actually.

My phone died yesterday afternoon. The main source of my communication with friends and family and the outside world overall, not to mention my camera… gone. *Poof*

Words can’t begin to convey the outright sense of panic this created, followed by the hours of self-denigration. “I used to be fine here without a camera,” I told myself, “why does it matter now? Why should it? Can’t you see the world without wanting to share something every single minute?”
Ah, how life and the world have moved on since my days of wandering New York City as a wide-eyed teenager. Yet looking at -experiencing -New York was a much more visceral experience in the last twenty-four hours of being camera and phone-less. Colors were brighter, noises were louder. I was forced to be fully present in every single thing, and look at curiosities and small shards of beauty -graffiti, flyers, people’s expressions, subway murals -in a very different way. “Subtlety” isn’t a word most people would associate with this city, and yet that’s exactly the quality I managed to somehow tune into (amidst the ego howls of “Go buy a phone… right now!”). I’ve always been a photography enthusiast, but stripped of my equipment, it was as if I was -am -in a living kind of gallery, noting the shadows, fine lines, tones, and expressions. I’ve struck up more conversations with people as a result of not hiding in text messages and emails. I’ve met some kind, helpful people with their own interesting tales to tell -this is unquestionably a city made up of dedicated, hard-working immigrants proud to call themselves both American, and New Yorkers -and I’ve even made friends with a few local fuzzy four-legged creatures who wag tails and chase away my blues at missing my own little pup. I am part of the divine noise of the city, and I sense that connection more keenly as a result of being receptive to it.

Lastnight I took a trip to Brooklyn to see Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, and Lindsay Duncan in the Abbey Theatre’s fine production of Borkman by Henrik Ibsen. I loved the humanity Duncan brought to her role as Ella, the title character’s long-suffering love; played against Shaw’s stern, stiff-as-cardboard wife, it was a beautiful kind of yin-and-yang energy that came together in a beautiful poetic moment by the play’s end. Alan Rickman, was, as ever, masterful, authoritative, and mesmerizing. He has one of the best voices in theater, and is such a powerful presence onstage, that seeing him alone, groping in the dark or standing awkwardly on a stage snowbank, became a masterclass in the art of being fully present -a task that any actor will tell you isn’t always easy. Not having a phone made experiencing Borkman somehow more cutting, its struggles more real, its characters more immediate. I couldn’t get on my Palm Pre at intermission or after the show and tap out “great!” or “you must see this!” I had to sit there, with the salty-sweet taste of Ibsen’s work, working out tone, texture, and timbre of the production I’d witnessed. Going back to Manhattan, I looked out on the lit-up Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline, and found, in the reflection, that I had a huge smile on my face.

That same feeling -of masterful, joyful, alive presence -was with me as I took a stroll through Times Square tonight. The place has a masterful kind of gaudy majesty at night, lit up brighter than Vegas, as ads for retail everything compete with lit up theatre marquees; it was a strange, if inspiring sight, to see Diddy’s vodka ad beamed next to scenes from The Lion King. As Jenny Holzer noted, contradiction equals balance.
And maybe that’s how it should be in approaching this new-ish world for me -finding the balance amidst the seemingly-impossible, the seemingly-opposite, the mad, the bad, the brave and the fooish. I’ve felt all of those things to varying degrees in the three days I’ve been here. And I want to return -for good -more than ever. One of the sights in Times Square features a gigantic live feed of people below -watching themselves. Would-be New Yorkers are their own entertainment, whether they’re walking, stopping, staring, dancing, laughing, or simply standing and watching the world go by. It was a beautiful reminder for me, and a powerful symbol.
Next stop, work-visa office. Oh, but maybe an iPhone first… maybe.

Sweet Home NYC

Peeking out the tiny window as the airplane made its way into Newark International Airport, one thought struck me: ew, brown. A large brown haze hung over the New York skyline. Yet another thought: get used to it. Buck up.

As I knew would happen, I wanted to do everything the minute I left the airplane. Going at near-sprint speed through Penn Station with baggage in tow, I quickly hailed a cab and… boom, there I was, in the thick of Big Apple traffic. Traces of the big December snowstorm were still in evidence, with curbs and corners white and icy. People were everywhere. The noise, colour, lights, and textures were a lot to take in, even as I tried to place where I was and my cab driver tried to figure out the best way to get me to my destination in Soho.
After grabbing a bite at the handily-close Dean and Deluca (ridiculous, delicious, nutritious), I made the predictable visit up to Times Square, turning onto 44th Street to visit the much-loved Belasco Theater. It was there, in 1995, that a good friend and I spent many breathless hours sighing and marveling at Ralph Fiennes’ Tony-winning performance of Hamlet. Directed by the super-fab (and super-nice, as I recall) Jonathan Kent, the show remains a favorite production of a very famous play. My friend and I got up to much mischief that hot July. Not visiting the area feels like sacrilege. I go to pay homage to a time, a place, to ghosts still very much alive.

A worker at the theater gave me a small smile as I clicked a photo outside. I always think people who work at old theaters during active shows must realize they’re working in an environment where people have memories -not just the theater crew and cast, but the audience, or even non-audience. Buildings have ghosts. I heard the Belasco had a real one. Hmmm. All the old theaters up around Times Square feel haunted by past voices, spoken onstage and off, and by the shenanigans that occur in any kind of creative pressure-cooker environment. They’re not the kind of ghosts I fear so much as appreciate. I’m going to BAM tonight to see the Abbey Theatre’s production of Borkman featuring Alan Rickman. More voices and faces from long ago and/or near-and-present? Probably. Sensing that kind of thing adds so much to the experience of live performance.
It was both a past, a present, and a very determined future I sensed colliding at lastnight’s genius performance at Zinc Bar, however. Whether it was design or chance that allowed this to happen I cannot say, but I’m grateful for this so-called “New York moment” nonetheless. The last-minute set, featuring super-musician Eric Lewis, was only announced via social media on Sunday; when I read it, I may have shrieked a little bit (only the dawg knows for sure). Lewis is a huge, huge favorite of mine, and this appreciation, bolstered by a music-loving friend’s appreciation of his work, made me go deeper into Lewis’ work and his approach to his art. I’ve seen the videos, heard about the White House performance, and follow the Facebook and Twitter updates. It goes without saying, though, that nothing compares to seeing the real thing, live and up close -especially in a cozy Greenwich Village club that calmly whispers “cool” the minute you walk down the stairs and through the door.

Opening with a raucous, rolling version of Wayne Shorter’s aggressive “Pinocchio“, Lewis, accompanied by the super-talented Ian Travis on bass and Ali Jackson on drums, delivered a performance both astonishing for both its technical virtuosity and emotional resonance. With a range of facial expressions and body signals, Lewis matches his muscular, passionate musical output with expressive physicality that borders on theatrical (in a really good way). Utterly lacking in pretension, Lewis smiled shyly and gave his bandmates equal time to shine. Tellingly, he patiently endured the microphone and sound glitches as he spoke between the (lengthy if enthralling) numbers, telling the enthusiastic audience about the composition of his bouncy original “Puerto Rico“, written in the very location some years ago over “many, many emptying Heinekens one night between 2 and 7am.”
Bouncing between an endearingly lionine sexiness, demonic bug-eyed determination, and toddler-esque wide-mouthed joy, Lewis emanated a vivacious, infectious energy -one that continued (and expanded) even with his invitation to trumpet player Marcus Printup (who was seated in front of me) and saxophone player Karel Ruzsicka Jr. to join him at various points throughout the set. It became a fascinating conversation between instruments and musicians used to blending colors, textures, and timbres with ease.

Lewis’s beautiful interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” was given a tasty little spin, as well a grandly sprawling version of Breaking Benjamin’s “The Diary Of Jane.” Lewis beautifully captured the dual nature of Jackson’s paean to sensual humanity; by turns sexy, dreamy, and jauntily rhythmic, he drew out its soul-meets-jazz-meets rock hybrid nature, milking, mocking, and worshipping the creation even in its conception, slowly, slyly sculpting something sonically new, daring, and thrilling. With “The Diary Of Jane”, the former Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra pianist captured the tune’s original emo bite, adding in crunchy piano power chords and aggressive harmonics that were positively symphonic in their sweeping majesty. The term “breathtaking” feels too mild; at times I would notice my mouth hanging open, my hands clutched together, my eyes bugging out. I think I may have drooled at one point. Vanity took a firm backseat in the presence of such gargantuan artistry.
By the time Lewis got to his rock-jazz version of “Sweet Home Alabama” (the evening’s closer), he looked as if he’d run a 10K marathon; with sweat pouring off him and a wide, broad grin, he confidently pounded away on the keys, solo this time, conjuring the soul of Ray Charles, the sass of Jamie Cullum, the cool of Thelonius Monk and the outright rockingness of… Jimmy Page.
What a marriage. What a night. What a bunch of noisy ghosts. What a city.
And there’s more to come, I’m sure.

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