I had a professor in college whose job it seemed was to make every one of his students as stressed out and angry as possible. The night I was accepted into the Graphic Design program I got a phone call from one of the seniors. He said, “Congratulations! You will cry. You know that, right? He makes grown men cry.”
Our professor worked hard at making our lives absolutely miserable. We lost sleep. We worked through days and nights. We had nose bleeds from darkroom chemicals, spray adhesive, fixative. It was like boot camp only without all the potential death and war. (Ok, maybe a little war.)
Naturally, we hated him. Everyone bitched and moaned about how difficult he was and how he was going to kill us all. We collectively hated him. And we collectively talked about it.
And then one day, right before I graduated, I realized something.
There were 23 in my graduating class. We spent countless hours together, sometimes not bathing for days at a time. Sometimes we went 48-hours without brushing our teeth or washing our underarms. We all did this in a studio together, sometimes working over top of one another in the darkroom or the computer lab. Yet, we rarely fought.
Under most circumstances, 23 people living that closely and for that long would have fought. But we spent almost all of commiserating about how much we hated our professor (who was a very smart man and an even better teacher). Did he do it on purpose? Was he merely acting as the tyrannical drill sergeant? Was he getting the best work out of his students by having us direct all of our stress at him instead of at one another?
The idea blew my mind because (even if he didn’t mean to do it) it worked.
I complain a lot about living in New York. I complain on here, to friends and to family. My friends and family (I think) know that I’m just blowing off steam most of the time. But there are some who probably just think I’m a resentful, hateful, cranky bitch.
And I am all those things sometimes, but not most of the time. I am only just now realizing that I may not have painted a very accurate portrait of myself. And judging by the email I receive and some of the comments I get, I know that many people have it very wrong.
So. Here goes nothing.
I’ve given some people the impression that I don’t have any friends who are mothers. That’s untrue. I have actually met several local mothers whom I really like. We try and hang out regularly although nap schedules, partners’ schedules, and overall exhaustion tends to get in our way. But whenever we do find time, we hit the park and gab as our little ones run around for an hour or two. I really enjoy their company and if our living conditions were slightly easier, I think we’d get to spend even more time together. I’m going to miss them so much whenever we leave here, so very much.
I don’t write about them for a number of reasons. The main reason is that I try and respect their privacy. I also don’t have very much time anymore to write coherent essays (or essays at all).
I realize how annoying it can be—trying to fill in the blanks. I get annoyed that people even try. There are far too many blanks to fill in! On here, lately, I paint the smallest portion of a picture representing my life. That may change soon and I hope that it does, but for now, I just don’t have the time. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’m a bad mother. I don’t think everything is falling apart around me. I am not suffering from self-hatred most of the time. I just tend to bitch a lot on here I guess.
I know that one thing is for certain, I simply need to illustrate somehow that I have a lot of joy in my life. Most urgent, however, since we’ll be leaving New York soon, I must, for the sake of history, illustrate just how much I’m going to miss this place. (I am wiping a tear from my eye as I write this.)
It occurred to me recently that Greenpoint, Brooklyn is the one place that I have lived the longest. (When you add in the time I spent living here before I met Tobyjoe). I love this place. After all, I think (hope?) that it’s pretty safe to say that this is the only place I’ll ever live where I’ll be able to watch a hobo take a dump in my backyard and then wipe his ass.
What’s not to love about that? I mean, as sick as it may be, it’s temporary and slightly hilarious, so I might as well file it under the “Things I Tolerated And Even Laughed About When I Was Younger” category. Also in this category is my difficult and absurd parking fiascos, the half naked man I watched snort heroin at 1 PM at the local public track, and the crack bag I intercepted from my son on the children’s playground. I tolerate the smell of the human waste facility not too far from here and the fact that it wafts up from our sewers at least twice a week making morning walks downright third world. I deal with the loud construction taking place out back now that the hobos are gone. (Is it wrong of me to miss them?) I tolerate the toxic waste dump in our backyard as well as the water bugs (American Cockroaches, you ain’t foolin’ no one, New York) the size of small cats. I even tolerated the crack head that ripped my antenna off of my car so he could smoke up. I even tolerate the insanely high rents and even higher mortgages.
I have tolerated all of this and I continue to do so. And I do think it’ll end up being hilarious one day (assuming that none of us get leukemia from the benzine leak in our backyard).
You simply must tolerate the good, the worse, and the vile if you wish to live in New York. (Switch the city, however, and people might call you insane for putting up with such nonsense.)
But this is New York! New York gets away with being the drunk aunt at the wedding party, the rich 90-year-old with the 24-year-old wife, the strange 7-year-old boy who touches himself too much in public, the gassy grandfather at the dinner table. You shrug it off as expected, maybe joke about it to a few people and get on with your day.
I’m going to miss it. I am going to miss all the weirdness and grime. I am going to miss the fodder for stories to tell people whenever I see them. I am going to miss the defecating hobos, the laughing hipsters with stupid haircuts, the Polish kids who collect sticks.
New York is tolerated because it’s New York and it has a stigma attached to it, whether you agree with it or not. And New Yorkers get to bitch about New York and blame everything bad going on in their lives on the city, like it’s a living thing (or a graphic design professor). At the end of the day New Yorkers all have one thing in common: we get to collectively bitch about how much we hate the city we love.
Photographs are from this series.
Edited to add: I have gotten a lot of email asking where we’re moving and when. We don’t know yet and we don’t know yet. But we know we have to leave here. I’m sorry I have been so vague. It’s not intentional. I am vague because I don’t know the answers yet myself.
Wow, does that mean the moving truck is coming soon, then? Congrats (I hope)!
We are in the same boat. Although I always loved New York unabashedly (what can I say, I’m from Houston), my husband constantly complained about it (only not with love, the way you do. His main complaint was that the cost of living was not justified by how “great” it was to live there). Until we moved to Baltimore. And now he misses it. People complain about Baltimore a lot, only it is not as fun b/c the problems are serious (high murder rate, drugs, bad politicians, shrinking population, little hope) and unlikely to improve. But hey, the cost of living is cheap.
Last week we got the opportunity to move back to NYC. And boy, was it hard to turn it down. But when we started thinking about the practicalities (high cost of living, no space, working 50+ hours per week [b/c I would DEFINITELY have to go back to work], day care waiting lists, etc), we decided no we are fine where we are, at least for another year. Then maybe Chicago. We hear Chicago is nice.
I can totally relate in that is how I feel about Toronto. Actually, yesterday I found a baggie full of (unused) syringes on my apartment steps – INSIDE the two locked exterior doors. Oddly enough, the first thing I thought of was you and your hobos….and I just chuckled and kept on walking.
It’s your blog. I think that means you get to write about whatever you want. I, for one, appreciate your perspective. Bitching or not, it’s all good.
This is such a great post. I think it sums up how a lot of people feel about living in these enormous, alive, cities all over the world.
I’m a long time reader but have never commented. I think I chose to comment on this entry because you brought the NY Post photos out again, and I’ve always thought your projects were a neat part of your website. I love all types of creativity (not to mention cute babies and cats). Also, I’ve never perceived your blog’s tone as negative. You’re a great writer who is both thoughtful and funny. You ask important questions to yourself and others which opens new dialogue and creates new ideas, and that’s why I keep reading. Cheers!