My girlfriend said something to me today that’s got me thinking about every major city I’ve ever been in and my own relationship to writing and living. I guess I’ve been thinking again about place and space and the degree to which they can change your experience of the world.
NYC is a lovely place, not because it’s beautiful, particularly, but because it’s so functional. Everyone here is reasonably sane, everything here runs reasonably on time. There’s a minimum of nonsense and it’s easy to make it, emotionally. But somewhere in that shuffle, something is also lost—at least for someone like me who’s a little more reflective and circumspect about life.
Writing in particular isn’t easy here. Everything just sort of flies past you, like the tunnel appears to do when you’re riding the subway train—without your noticing a thing, from beginning to end. In San Francisco and Chicago, writing is easier. In Chicago, words were just falling out of me constantly—there was a pathos to the place that was unbelievable. San Francisco affects me in a different way—it’s a more quiet, timeless place, but it’s inspiring as hell in a way that really creeps up on you.
New York is actually like Salt Lake City or Portland or Austin for me in that nothing comes to mind when I think about or in these places. Not only do I not really have the drive to write anything here, but when I try to force myself to do it, I’m empty—I’m thinking more about getting lunch or how much time I need to reserve for a train ride or when my bills are due.
Is it the architecture? The people? The natural climate and geography? Is it something deeper? Maybe nobody’s happy enough and nobody’s hurt enough in these places where I can’t write. There are deep reservoirs of joy and sadness in San Francisco and Chicago that bubble just below the surface, always trying to come out. Seattle seems sort of the same to me. Vancouver is a different sort of place, neither one thing or the other—maybe because it’s Canadian and I don’t really have a good feel for Canada in general, beyond being in awe of the degree to which it’s functional in a completely non-American way.
Los Angeles is different in that there’s no joy bubbling beneath the surface—there’s none of that “agony and ecstasy” tension that inspires a person to do things, there’s just layer beneath layer beneath layer of agony, lost paths, and broken dreams. Las Vegas seems the same.
I don’t know enough about Dallas or Denver or Nashville or Boise to comment on them. New Orleans seemed the sort of place that would get one thinking, but it also seemed dangerous in a very deep way—as though even the strongest person might lose themselves there, get swallowed whole by the ghosts of the place, never to be heard from again.
Nothing I’m really getting at with this post, I don’t think, beyond all of this. I’m just musing, basically.