The one with the boots

friends_episode180_337x233_032020061517At an old job I had a sharply-dressed coworker who let me tag along to sample sales. At one, held at an old bank in midtown with ornate architecture and a world-class view of the Empire State Building, we walked up and down rows of shoes, their boxes open, tissue paper raining down. It was winter and we carried our bulky coats and kept a close eye on our Blackberrys. We were on the clock. C.’s style of dress was city chic but approachable, punctuated with a range of heeled boots I always coveted. So when we shopped together that cold day I must have been subconsciously inspired by her and my eyes landed on a pair of structured ankle boots I knew I had to have. The heel was a little taller than I normally wear – I’d learned my lesson by then after years of crossing the river by train and bus in heels that left their marks – but it was a wedge, and the boot was lined with buckles that served no utility but screamed confidence.

I bought them. They were more than any other shoe I’d bought, ever.

When I wore them for the first time, the unthinkable happened: they hurt. Like, badly. Like The One with Monica’s Boots. I tried again, and then again. Both times I had to give up before I even left my apartment, switching into something that fit me properly.

So they went in a pile in the back of my closet, where I would occasionally spot them and wince. For years those boots stayed on my mind. I thought if I could just wear them one more time I'd break them in perfectly; I thought if I just wanted it enough, I could learn to withstand the pain. They moved with me from apartment to apartment, across two rivers, through a wedding, a baby. I still loved the look of them, and as my style evolved I realized they would fit me (aesthetically, anyway) even better now than they did when I bought them. So out of the closet they came. I was going to give them another try, dammit.

So I brought them into work one day last year, intent on wearing them, finally. I changed out of flats and buckled in, ready to take on the day (and with it, the world). But I guess I forgot that even though my style changed, my feet, alas, did not. The boots still hurt. They hurt so much I hobbled right back to my office and took them off. It took years, but they finally broke my of my will.

I’m back at work after a maternity leave and today I found those boots in a drawer. They're still beautiful, and they're certainly not doing anyone any good sitting in there. So tonight I’ll take them home and leave them on the stoop outside my apartment, which is the Brooklyn way of donating things we no longer need. I’ll think of C. when I do it, and of the job where I met her, the friends I made there; the way the city, the world, seemed so close to me then. How everything felt possible. How it all was possible.

But mostly I’ll be thinking of how good it feels, how free, to let go of things you’ve been carrying for years and have never really needed.

Museum dreams

I don't go to museums enough, and living in New York, the fault lies with me and my laziness. 6885325696_b5f26398bdSo a few weekends ago my friends and I went to the Met to see an exhibit about girls and cats, only it turned out to be kind of a gross exhibit and the artist was surely breaking some laws when he painted those pre-teen muses, but that's not the story here. What is the story is this: I went to the Met for the first time in years right as I was reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which (no spoilers, don't worry) has a Met component, and the book is lush and intense and I get lost in it on my morning commute, and now I can't stop dreaming of museums.

The high ceilings, the long walls. Room after room of the European masters, which makes me repeat Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts from memory; gift shops where I nearly become convinced that I could do this, I could be someone who frequents the Met and has art books on my (nonexistent) coffee table. Museums and their corresponding dreams make me want to be a better person.

Instead, I go home to my old sketchbooks, my certificate from high school declaring me "best artist," my charcoals. I go home and think about my art again, and what I could and should do with it, how it's a form of meditation. How it's just another way of telling stories.

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Setting into a coast; a life

2621081911_f0f63ac770An old friend from LA emailed and when I wrote her back, I told her I loved her photos of her city -- burnt and hot-looking on her Instagram account, offering a glimpse of a place I've never visited but have always secretly loved. Los Angeles, or the vision of it I have in my head, is my single instance of coastal regret. Why am I in New York, I sometimes wonder? But here is where I settled. The settling happens, whether it’s into bones or cities or routines, and I always knew New York would be good, it would be how everyone said, and even better, and then some. But there are losses, sacrifices I forgot would revisit when I least expected them.

Last fall, a lovely 23-year-old I worked with jumped ship; a cross-country move, a dream job. I told her then how jealous I was, and I had never been more serious, and it was a thick jealousy, a mournful one. For a while I struggled with the reasons behind my reaction. I moved to New York after college, lured by a communications job for a respected news organization. I spent six years at that job, loving things, but far from settlement. I read books on LA, on how to become a writer, on how to write for TV, on how to work in entertainment. My Amazon bill for those books was more than I could afford and I remember thinking they felt dated even then, in the early '00s, and they felt less than useful. But I read them, and wrote occasional poems, and when I thought ahead I knew I wanted to be a writer, but it was a vague notion, and besides, wasn’t what I was doing already just a type of writing?

It was. One day, years ago, on a train ride from DC to NY, a man next to me, leaking nerves, told me his life story. He waved around photos of the long-lost child he was about to go meet. He asked me what I did, and I said, I’m a writer, and he said he’d never met an actual writer before, and so I felt like a liar.

Today I am 33 and a writer, and it’s definitive, and I adore all of it – my day writing job, coming home to my writer love in the evenings and cooking dinner together and then retreating to our shared office, where I write more, this time for me, this time for ghosts I’m legally unable to name, this time for what I hope is my future life. And the city speaks to me in fits and starts and that’s okay because it’s mine, and if that means I can’t live on a deserted beach, then that means the beach is there for vacations.

But then a twenty-something told me she was leaving New York for LA to write, and I wanted to throw up, because even though I love my life and I’ve chosen this and it thrills me, my making the choices I’ve made means, necessarily, that I’ve opted out of other lives.

The problem is, there are so many lives I’ve always wanted. But I have this one, and it’s not even a “but,” it’s my own type of fantasy, one I never even thought I’d be brave enough for, because I made it here in New York. But it means I didn’t make it in LA, or London, where I was so close, so many times. I chose this place, which means I couldn’t choose any other.

In a few months I'm getting married, and that too is a choice that relegates some other choices unnecessary.  I treasured my single life. I miss aspects of it -- the things I could have hung on the walls, the throw pillows, the night cheese. And marriage is a type of settling, too, an acknowledgement that one more life is closed to me, a burst of magic rendered obsolete. A circus with no more seats.

Both youth and naps are wasted on the young. My bones feel their age now but sometimes I am still the youngest person in the room and therefore the one with the most opportunity to dream and when I dream I dream of flight, escape, but the secure kind, which doesn’t make much sense.

When I told my fiance all those months ago about my coworker, the one leaving, the one I could have been but can no longer be, he told me with wide, serious eyes, Babe, we can move to LA. You can work in TV if you want!

And maybe we will. Even if we don't, though, I like having the option.

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Friday night

The driver took the scenic route home, down the West Side Highway, lights versus lights, a face-off over the Hudson River. I can never decide which view is more beautiful. I was coming from one of my favorite nights in a long while, just one of those dinner parties with best friends where every conversation clicked, every morsel consumed loved, every moment exactly as it should be. I indulged in a car home, to my new new home, and the driver played Rum Diary on the DVD player and I collapsed against the leather seats. On my left, New York pulsed and played. On my right, the water moved but it seemed like the boats just stayed still, like they couldn't decide if they were real or just buoys; just extra thoughts some sailor artist had.

I didn't expect this car ride home to be full of so many memories. Here was midtown with all of my old haunts, the places that changed me most, I think, all those years ago. My old office. Then further downtown, my current office, my favorite walk, the corner where he kissed me the second time, which I sort of think of as the real time, because second kisses are more important than firsts.

I like this tour from a car. I am so rarely a passenger in cars, a circumstance I don't miss, but which occasionally reveals itself to be extraordinarily useful in this place of underground living. Who are all these others, on the road past midnight in their own cars? Are they going out or, like me, going home? Which do they wish they were doing?

Which do you?

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Macbeth in a hotel

I had a rushing, swooping swell of love for New York yesterday. It just hit me as I emerged from the subway, feeling sunshine on my cheekbones for the first time in days. After a few false starts, it's finally fall on the East Coast. That tumbling love feeling stayed with me all day, and then all night as I shuffled myself, behind a white mask, at the McKittrick Hotel for Sleep No More.

It is hard to explain the experience. (If you want to understand what it is, read this NYT review.) (Potential spoilers ahead.)

In a silent elevator, the conductor, with his Irish lilt, blocked me from leaving on the third floor, even though K, E, and S had already spilled out. The doors closed and I stifled a giggle; no one could see my smile when the conductor leaned into me and whispered, "I think you'll find luck tonight."

I did. The first room I discovered when I was finally let off had a single crib centered in a shaded room; bursting up above it were about 75 headless baby dolls, frozen in a choreographed routine. I stood there alone, taking it in; an actor appeared and performed a show around the crib, just for me. She left, and I stayed.

That was my favorite floor of Sleep No More -- children's bedrooms, filled with vintage books and strewn-about bedclothes. An office, with open drawers I could rifle through, letters half-written in old Smith-Coronas. A parlor, with chaises covered in white sheets; a turntable playing old jazz, the kind of haunting music I can't get out of my head. I went back to that floor twice, just to re-check on the bedrooms, to see if the same books were still open to the same pages; to see if the dolls had moved.

Eventually I made my way to the next floor, where I watched  a woman hanging laundry (it was actually wet -- a nice touch); then a bell rang, and she paused, shrugged on a jacket, and the crowd of about 30 rushed after her. She ended up walking through a wooded maze and meeting up with another nurse; they drew on the ground with chalk and kissed. They were in a tragic sort of love.

In the psychiatric ward I stood alone, surrounded by empty beds with diagnoses nailed to the walls and blood on the sheets. I waited for an actor or a dancer to appear -- there was so much potential in that room -- but when none showed, I reluctantly left, wandering until I found a woman trying to leave her husband, suitcase in hand; he threw her against a wall and left. You have to find your own show in Sleep No More.

Back in the lounge, I took off my mask and listened to French '30s music and relished my returned visibility; the mask had made me feel like a ghost, like a peeping Tom. For a second I forgot I didn't need to be scared anymore -- the game was over.