When I came home from Paris, I felt like a genius just because I knew how to make acceptable chitchat effortlessly, and how to do things like mail a letter. I wasn’t quite so much of a dummy in New York, but I am not fluent in the language of New York. I did have to think about where the post office might be. I didn’t know the ups and downs of different coffeehouses. I had to go figure these things out. (Barista who will ask how your Fourth was and good bagels, but paper plates. Everything, including barista who apologizes for squiggliness of latte art, but there are lemons in the water. Everything, but thus a time limit on your table. So it goes.)
In Kansas City, I am a genius. I know something about people by what their t-shirts say and their cars and where they went to high school and where they drink. I know where all the drugstores are, and which ones are open all night. I am currently enjoying that feeling.
Someone was asking me why I want to move to New York, and at first, this struck me as a Zen koan. I don’t wake up every morning and ask myself what my name is, and I don’t know why I’m trying to move, either.
When I was at the Met, the last day I was in The City, I walked through the gift shop as I feel compelled to, and a certain image reminded me of when walking through the gift shop was a much bigger deal.
I had bought that poster, of that Van Gogh, at the Met when I was maybe thirteen. Going to New York was so glamorous and so special to me that I had a special outfit to wear and I had planned to buy a poster at the Met. Their posters were printed on thick paper, and I could not imagine anything more cultured than to have such a thing thumbtacked to my bedroom wall. I had giant green plastic framed glasses. I liked the words Coco Chanel, though, and I read fashion magazines carefully.
I don’t yet officially live in New York (or anywhere, for that matter), but I have spent so much time there recently– last month, a few days last January, two weeks last summer, three weeks the summer before that– it has become less precious. I have been to the Met a lot. It has gone from being a place where I treasured every moment to a place where I wandered through the oddest galleries just for something different to do. This last time, I didn’t even go into the room with the Van Goghs.
That image, though, reminded me that I was fighting for some desire of my fourteen-year-old self. How amazed and impressed she would be by grown-up me, drinking wine and wearing high heels and knowing about things.
The way things look is so important, and, then again, such a temptation to dead ends. I redecorated my room in blue. I already had a blue bedspread with white strips down each side and white lace on the edges. I bought, with my very own money, a white throw rug with a blue flowered border, the Van Gogh poster with the blue border, a blue vase with a sprig of blue silk flowers, all on a summer trip to the east coast. It was the first time I thought of having some control over my aesthetic situation. My body was still much too far from any idea of what I imagined to be what I wanted to dress up.
New York is a place I think of as having more choices, although, truthfully, there are things we choose, and things that choose us.