I forget why I miss New York.
Or, in fact, I stop missing it. It’s an easy thing to do, out here in suburban America. The common sense shifts; the reality shifts; the ontology shifts. The world is a different world. Not just the places you are in, but the places you aren’t.
New York becomes something other than New York when you are in Utah.
But in today’s world, you can catch whiffs of New York across a distance, thanks in large part to the ‘net.
When this happens to me, I miss New York again, and I remember why.
— § —
Only in New York have I ever felt human. Only in New York was I able to sense, at a visceral level, the existence of other humans.
The quantity of “sociability” is a purely theoretical, conjectural one—one that cannot be experienced in real life. Unless you happen to be in New York, in which case you experience it every day. Every hour. Every moment.
In New York, everyone is with everyone else in one place; the others in the room, or even in the neighborhood, are interacting with you at all times. You are aware of them; they are aware of you. You are open to one another; you respect their humanity and they respect yours. You value them, even if you disagree with or hate them, as other human beings.
Everywhere else I’ve ever had an address or visited for weeks or more at a time—Salt Lake City, Portland, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, even Krakow—this was not the case.
The fundamental question is the question of what you are, not the question of what those around you are. In New York, you are part of a functioning, integral, sociable collective. Everwhere else, you are you, and you are in competition with the others.
If in New York, everyone is with everyone else in one place, experiencing togetherness, even if uncomfortable, everywhere else I’ve lived, everyone is alone together in one place, isolated, disconnected, venturing nothing, defending the ramparts, forming alliances.
I’m not sure this is true for everyone; strongly extroverted people, for example, may feel that New York is overwhelming, while suburbia is nicely sociable.
But for me—a strong, though not at all shy interovert—the suburbs are a way of being isolated, of forgetting what it is to be human.
I lived thirty years of my life with a hole in my head and heart before I got to New York, and I never once knew or understood what was meant to fill that space, or even that something could.
Two weeks in New York, and I knew exactly what went in that space: just other people. Everybody else in the world.
But the “knowledge” isn’t enough. Two years back in Utah, and most days I don’t remember at all. I walk around the same hole and the ignorance of it, no idea at all that it’s there, gaping, or that it can be filled.
Until a bit of New York floats over the network and lands in my lap.
Then, I choke back the tears.
— § —
I’ll be teaching tomorrow again.
I still don’t know whether this will be my last sememster or not. I need to make a decision quickly.
There are times when I long to be free of this grind—the same one or two courses (since I’m an adjunct and those are the dues) over and over again, for no money, with no office, spending time that could otherwise go toward—you know—feeding my family and building my future.
At other times, when I think of leaving academic work beind, or even leaving the classroom behind, I become terrified, paralyzed, despondent at what else awaits.
What is the meaning of life when you are working in the broader economy? What, at the level of one’s self and one’s own existence, is there to care about?
I feel as though at these moments the reason that I went into academics to begin with was so that I could be something more than a bank account for my children.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to feed the kids, and nothing could be a higher priority in my life.
But I also want to exist as me. I often still don’t see any way to do that “out there.” The world is full of not-mes outside the academy. Even if the academy is oppressive, it is one of the least alienated forms of labor going, worse now though it may be than it was twenty or even ten years ago.
— § —
It’s a Utah accent thing, and I just heard it again on a radio ad:
“Join the … assoshiation.”
Every time I hear someone replace the ‘s’ after a vowel sound with an ‘sh’ it makes my eardrums bleed.
— § —
Right now I am one of those people with a hopelessly split personality or (it feels) nationality. I don’t like the thought of leaving Utah again. But I miss New York terribly as well. On the other hand, if I was in New York right now, I wouldn’t like the thought of leaving—but I’d miss Utah terribly.
I don’t know if there’s any way out of this state of affairs, once it’s infected you.