Archives for category: Aloneness

This event happened last weekend, apparently a pretty huge annual one here in the US. I was pretty unaware of it until that night, when the guy who helped me in a store told me how sad he was to be working and not watching the game.

As it happened, the weekend also marked nine months since my arrival in NYC, May 2018. Overall, I now feel pretty settled. Returning to the city following a Christmas/New Year break in London, I realized how much NYC, and my apartment, feel like home. Also, over the past few weeks I have noticed that most experiences in my adopted city no longer feel like I am encountering them for the first time (which is a little sad in a way – I do want to hang onto the excitement of the newness).

My non-engagement with the Super Bowl led me to wonder, however, the extent to which I have truly integrated. Have I merely exchanged one big multicultural city (London) for another? And also, what happens to one’s sense of identity when you move from nation to nation, neither of which is actually your homeland of origin? I was surprised to learn a few weeks ago that everyone I encounter here assumes that I am English. I guess that living for more than a couple of decades in London muted my Irish lilt, but still… Being here in the US, I feel more Irish than I ever have, and gratefully so.

Things I have (particularly) noticed over the past transplanted months:

Language and spelling – gray vs grey / arugula vs rocket / squash vs courgette / sleeper sofa vs sofa bed, the plethora of commas (something I have embraced enthusiastically, being a passionate advocate of same)… The list is exponential.

Directness – it is not just the language that can be different here, but also the way it is delivered. People generally say exactly what they mean, which was disarming initially but I have come to appreciate the directness. It makes you feel that whatever the agenda is, it is transparent to all.

Friendliness – I like that people randomly talk to you, on the street, on the subway. When you start off knowing almost no-one, the acknowledgement of your presence from strangers matters.

Excitement – someone said to me that living in NYC is like being permanently electrified. There is so much to discover, to interest, to energise, to excite. If you are up for it, and I generally am, the options are endless. Take, for example, last week, when I went to a loft apartment in Long Island City for a classical concert. The organisation Groupmuse hosts intimate concerts in people’s homes. The price is a small donation for the musicians, alongside BYOB, and for that you get to hear pretty amazing music and also to meet new people. The concert on this occasion was a cellist performance. Wondrous, and only around 14 of us present. I plan to host a concert in my apartment, too. I love the idea of people coming to my space and sharing such experiences.

I perceive life in technicolor here. I also believe that what I perceive is not how I want it to be, but for the first time, seeing life as it really is.

Living in NYC has also moved my passion for literature and reading to another level. New York Public Library is amazing. And free. I have an endless request list there. Plus, there are numerous, and often free, book events throughout the city. Of late I have seen Colm Toibin, Paul Muldoon, Brian Dillon, Jorie Graham, Tessa Hadley, Dani Shapiro, Elizabeth Gilbert, Maria Popova…

Being surrounded by so much has inspired me in other ways, too. I play the cello in an amateur ensemble. With a friend, we planning to host literary salons on all things pretentious! I am writing, a little, and aiming to do much more. Despite the busyness of life here, I feel as if my brain is almost paradoxically lighter, and open to more.

There are downsides, of course. The UK where my daughter is at school so often feels too far away. NYC is super expensive, though I am learning how to exist here more economically., and there is much culturally that is free.

Although this is gradually and surely improving, there have been moments of huge existential loneliness – stripped bare of that which had previously supported me, moving alone to New York exposed a vulnerable me that inevitably questioned the meaning of my life on more than one occasion. But those experiences have also helped me to understand myself better. Being so exposed, so stripped bare, has encouraged me to critically question my self – my thoughts, behavior, actions – in a (hopefully) constructive way.

I love this a quote from the Baal Shem Tov that I came across in the introduction to Dani Shapiro’s book, Hourglass:

“Let me fall if I must fall. The one I will become will catch me.”

Someone asked me this week where I am heading, what my life plan is. I had no definite or concrete answer. And I am glad of that. I have largely stopped trying to plan my life, and also, I have become mostly okay living with a “not-knowing.”

From Denise Levertov’s Variations On a Theme by Rilke:

“….The day’s blow

rang out, metallic or it was I, a bell awakened,

and what I heard was my whole self

saying and singing what it knew: I can.”

 

Which is what I have gradually come to experience over these past months – a self-belief, and the sense that I, too, can.

 

CQ

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I have developed a thing for mirrors.

In my new space, I have a large one, something I have never had before. In fact, I pretty much avoided mirrors up to now, large and small.

Matthew Sweeney’s take on this resonates. From his essay, Huge Mirrors:

“This is an old apartment and therefore the mirrors are huge and ornate. They go with the high ornate ceilings… The problem is I’ve never been too fond of mirrors. I rarely look into them, and only then to make sure my hair isn’t sticking up, or there’s no toothpaste showing, or when I’m fine-trimming the beard, to make sure I’ve missed no section… As for gazing into the mirror to see if  I look OK enough to go out into the world, or — perish the thought — if I look attractive today, the answer is no wayQue sera, sera, as the song goes.”

Now, I seem to have swung the other way; I have deliberately chosen to house a large mirror in my otherwise sparsely furnished apartment. And I have positioned it in the living space so that I walk past it frequently, thus catching at least a glimpse of myself several times a day.

Sometimes I stop and stare.

Sometimes I watch myself dancing.

Sometimes I take selfies.

I have been reflecting on the why—the why of this shift in my relationship with mirrors, or at least with this one in particular.

At work, I initially resisted switching the camera on for conference calls, not wanting to be perpetually confronted by my screen face. I now no longer care. Not only does it not bother me, but I seem to have developed a intense curiosity about seeing “myself”. And this is not because I consider that age has suddenly made me attractive or “nice-to-look-at” ;)

I think it is more about shunning a previously held dualistic approach to personal identity. I have spent most of my life in my head, largely ignoring my physical self. My mind was an okay place to spend time and I could quite easily justify indulging it. I still do. Buying books is not difficult for me. Buying clothes can be more challenging.

This emergent sense of the totality of me began when I discovered yoga. Not only did it show me new ways of engaging with my body, but it also revealed how my mind and body could work symbiotically. Although I play the piano and the cello, I had never previously experienced the same synchronicity. Yoga encouraged me to believe that these two aspects of my self could be “friends.”

Hiding less from my physical self, I feel that I am getting to know me more authentically, more honestly, and thus moving towards a better recognition (and acceptance?) of self. As we approach another new year, my thoughts are not so much about changing me, physically, mentally or spiritually, but more about enhancing the me that I now see so that all components of who I am might live more harmoniously together.

As I walk by my mirror, and catch a glimpse of a reflected self, this witnessing of me, by me in the absence of others, reassures.

I exist. And my mirror never fails to tell me so.

 

CQ