Disclaimer: if this comes off as especially hippy-dippy and ramblin’, it’s only because I haven’t written in many moons. In the interest of due diligence and getting back into the swing of things, I humbly submit what’s below for the Adelpheans 2.0 — stay tuned for heady political commentary and bad-ass new fiction as soon as TOMORROW.
Or THIS WEEKEND.
And here you are. Where are you? Going on evening runs to avoid The Work. (This is how you know things are dire, by the way. Shame on you. Runs…) You are setting the scene and conditioning the circumstance for one who Works in the glittery way you cannot quite, even with a fire escape, even with all the elements bright and assembled. For here, the wine is poured, Nina Simone is moseying around and around your finnicky turntable, piles of dog-eared books are amassed and placed in deliberate stacks at close hand, reference portraits of the goddesses main are lined up like stations of the cross on your desk top: Joan Didion, Zadie Smith, Fran Leibowitz. Boyfriend practices guitar along with a studio recording on your futon couch, black cut curls up in a wary ball by the door. This is the texture and shape of your kingdom. This is the place and the style. Look on my works you bitches, and despair!
Now here are some books I’ve read since the first rooftop party of bonny 2013: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (run, don’t walk); Homeland by Sam Lipsyte (if it’s raining, and you find it in some foreign city); Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (run faster). These books have land in common. I’ll give you a hint. It’s the title of the second one. For what could bind the black lady academic to the poor Southern whiteguy addict to the middle class and mediocre; the exile, the immigrant and the citizen (at least in my country tis of thee), what is that abstract most opuses –opi? – look to immortalize? To be vague and sweeping, these books are all about home – and what it means, and how it’s handled and held on to.
Here are some good books about our places – Nigeria, Boston, a New Jersey high school, the el train above Chicago – and how they’re bound up in how we begin and become. And most prescient to me, now, what I’ve extracted from these three stories and this fine day, is a familiar line of questioning: where is my home? Now? Not quite where I’ve come from and not quite where I’m going, but let me now spend time with here, here, here.
This is my third New York apartment. I haven’t painted this one either, but I have thought hard about buying a new TV. And while there was an element of transom assumed in the one year leases of Crown Heights Spot A and Crown Heights Spot B, while there have been years before this one where it seemed like I could shake the dust of this crummy little town off my boot-heels and go see the world goddamnit!…this year I’m pretty grumpy about moving one floor up in our building. Plus, the other day I got giddy walking around Bed Bath and Beyond — not even Ikea, guys, Bed, Bath and Beyond — that’s never happened before. I figure some biological nesting impulse is kicking in, but a superstitious self figures it’s New York, finally come to hold me and couch yet another dingy artist type in the snug folds of her cliches. I’ve been invited to stay.
I am the kind of person who gets genuine comfort from thinking of her life as a movie or book of which she is heroine. I have done a lot to make my life look like the outside of lives I know and love from fiction, and this has sometimes proved a problem (see this semi-tangent of a feminist treatise about why it’s bad for women to paint themselves as shiny fixtures in some inherited narrative). Because I like the look of things so much, it’s hard to tell, sometimes, what it is I really need; because I like the look of the lofts on television, the modular office spaces and posh jobs in the movies, I’ve wondered sometimes if I’m building my own home out of two-dimensional materials. Colors and shades and ideas rather than bricks. But then again, maybe narratives are incidental despite our best attempts; my life looks nothing like the shows I like to compare it to. I’m sure the same is true for you.
My friends and I, we go out to dinner and talk about what we expect of our lives. We do a lot of macro-examining and bandy with the million dollar words, we are the kinds of ladies to demand things of the world: you will make me a writer, you will remember me, you will carry me up and sing my praises forever after. What everyone seems to be learning in stress-packed dollops is that our manifest destiny has a small scope, in the end – what we paint is our walls, what we read are our books. And there are no small people, and the world is connected and various lines from Rescue Agreement’s recent play, but at the end of a stressful day, if you’re very, very lucky, your evidence of a life being lived consists merely of your things and your people. The things you can reach with your fingers.
Land on – there is an extent to which one chooses. Sure. There is an extent to which one cannot choose and is bound: it’s hard to imagine some of the regulars at my bar for once stepping beyond their situations, plotting with dexterous fingers what went wrong where, wondering if this is, in fact, the life they’d planned on. Where do they wander off to, after x amount of beer/shot combos? What sad, forgotten family members keep vigil for them; do any? That’s pretty reductive and sour of me, I know things come up. Life gets complicated.
But for now, even ye renters and troubadours, take joyful inventory: here are four walls, plus three jobs, plus several excellent friends, plus a long, long list of things to do, a blinking, blank word document, family, pets and the person on your futon playing one of your three guitars reminding you: this, you chose this, it looks like this.
And if manifesto, if action, if function, follow form…well. In that case, I think I need at least one more groovy rug. You know, to tie the room together.