I start writing this confession on a bleak Friday afternoon, and even though I am still full of Thursday’s Thanksgiving Table, I’ve just stuffed my body with waffles and eggs and bacon and syrup. Winter is coming, after all.
If I was home already, the coming weekend would herald the changing of the seasons. Spring giving way to Summer – perhaps announced by the solitary cry of a black cockatoo, nerves on edge with the rising charge of an incoming thunderstorm.
But I am not home. I haven’t even made it to my second home where, if reports are to be believed, it is just above freezing. It is even colder here – but in the good old US of A, winter is not beholden to the human conceit of months numbered one through twelve. Winter will instead arrive on December 22, the day I finally get home.
I am enjoying the 4-hour bus ride to Boston, through a countryside that several weeks ago may have been beautiful – clothed in flaming amber and ochre, but is now brittle, spiny and grey. It would probably be a cliché to draw parallels between the way the landscape is presented, and the mood I find myself in, but I wrote the words down anyway.
Coming into this country, I was anxious. After a while, I came down off of that ledge and relaxed enough to walk the streets with a heart rate only gently pushing above a resting pace. The creeping cold and ever dimming sun however bring with them a certain numbness – a frozen panic. Not much of a consolation for a brain wired to fire.
If I am objective however, if I free my lived experiences from the chemistry of my brain, life is good. Amazing even. “You have just spent five weeks in New fucking York, pull your head in”. Sure thing.
Dear reader – you may remember that I spent the second week of October in Boston, at the TransCultural Exchange Conference. On arriving in New York, I resolved to relax for a week in my borrowed apartment in the West Village. A beautiful space, usually inhabited by a beautiful old friend who happened to be out-of-town.
He drew me a map of the neighbourhood, and I was able to visit most of his favourite haunts – making my own memories of the place. Every morning I jogged far enough to see Lady Liberty. Far enough to satisfy those parts of my brain that need physical stimulation. A few years ago I started a list of things to do when I am not well. One day in New York, and my best friend reminded me: Go for a run. It made me sane enough to relax.
And then I moved to Brooklyn. A corner of Bed-Stuy that seemed to be at the junction between rich, poor, and Orthodox Jew. This American Life told me last week that New York City has the third most segregated population in the United States, and I have lived experience to verify their claims. Walk one or two blocks in any direction and the landscape changes dramatically. But I am sure a legion of armchair sociologists have written about this from behind their horn-rimmed glasses, leather suspenders, and soy lattes, so I will leave it at that.
I lived in one of Brooklyn’s ubiquitous brownstones with a small portion of the city’s even more ubiquitous talented but impoverished artists – part of the set creeping south in search of cheaper rent, the frontier of the relentless march of gentrification.
What did I do once I settled in?
I didn’t work full-time as I had for almost three months in Korea, but I sure did work:
I spent three weeks at the Wave Rising Dance Festival in Dumbo. Coming in for the weekends, I worked front of house and behind the bar. I saw 24 different pieces of dance, many of them more than once. Some of the best, and some of the worst I have ever witnessed. I learned about the difficult life of a senior Korean ex-pat struggling to defend her own little corner of this city in a space she calls her own along the Hudson. I choreographed in my head and in my journal and I improved everything that I watched. I met artists, dancers, producers, and patrons and made several beautiful new friends. Which, if you have been following along, is very important to me – making friends, and reimagining our lives, and our futures together.
I didn’t just meet new friends here however – reconnecting with special ones from my past was really important. But in this city as in all cities, I didn’t get around to see them all.
I spent half a week dancing with SU-EN, that incredibly intelligent and generous butoh master who oversees an army of dancers in a forest in her native Sweden. She affirmed for me the fact that I am on the right path, that I am good enough, and that there is still so much for us all to learn.
I saw many shows, all of them off-broadway. Most of these were excellent. Bedlam’s 4-handed Saint Joan at The Culture Project. Puppet BloK: What Are You Eating? at Dixon Place. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Whilst these were especially excellent, they reminded me that there is actually nothing particularly special about The Great White Way. There is just a lot more of it available to terrify you. My friends, (and If I might tentatively add, myself) make performance of a quality that would sell for months here. Off-broadway. Off-off-broadway. Brooklyn, maybe even New Jersey.
Moving uptown, to that half of Manhattan designated to the academic cloisters of Colombia University, I sat in on The 6th Annual North American Workshop on Korean Literature. A time full of learning. I listened to papers covering the entire spectrum of scholarship on the subject: Premodern literature, postcolonial film, North Korean film, the pre-colonial trade in Confucian artefacts. I had plenty to contribute, but I kept it to myself, shy of my own voice in a room that you would normally need to be fluent in at least three languages to enter. I realised that I have comrades that share my special interests, and one day I hope to play with them.
I drank a lot of coffee [obligatory snobby remark despairing of America’s coffee culture redacted], ate a lot of bagels, put on a lot of weight.
Mostly however, I wrote. Fresh from Korea, and thrust into this alien world, my mind and my heart were completely captured by an old idea that decided to bubble out of my brain, breaking through my skin and onto paper. It didn’t stay on paper very long before ricocheting around the globe, pulling in co-conspirators, collaborators, and lovers. I can’t talk about it yet, but I am excited for the future.
From home, I learned of my failures, and I learned of some pretty remarkable successes. Once again, all will be revealed in good time.
The most I saw of New York as a bona-fide tourist was the Museum of Natural History. But once there, I wept underneath a Maori maihi, surrounded by whales and their reconstructed remains. I pressed every button, heard every voice. I went deep underground and lay underneath a blue whale, the behemoth’s fibreglass avatar soaring in permanently frozen flight – dappled by some magic of lighting design, she sang her booming, looping song.
I learned, I danced, I sung, I wrote, I drank, I flirted, I loved, I pined, I lived.
Nothing to apologise for, surely?
Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artists Fellowships are an initiative of Brisbane City Council. This project is supported by Asialink and Arts Queensland.