Thursday, December 29, 2011

Return to Reality

Once again, despite many hours devoted to writing, I've managed to go without any blogposts for over three weeks. Been working on a few large pieces that will be posted once completed. 

I'm currently back home in New York's forgotten borough, Staten Island, and haven't had much free time in the midst of excessive relaxation, couch-slothing, and catching up with family and friends, but before the great year of 2011 is suddenly washed away I would like to share a few things.

As I mentioned above, the absence of posts on this blog is by no means an indication of a lack of writing. Two lengthy album reviews have taken up much of my time, the latter still waiting to be completed after over two months of writing (and well over a year of listening to the music). Both will be posted here very soon and the title of this blog post actually derives from the closing track on one of the albums.

Returning to the land of my birth and upbringing has also been a return to reality of sorts. In my nearly four years of nomadhood, there have been many times when I've had to stop for a moment to reflect and remind myself that I am a New York native, spent my entire first 22 years in Staten Island, and not only roamed the streets of Manhattan (a.k.a. New York City, perhaps the epicenter of our globe) but spent so much time there that I grew sick of it and had to escape. This week has been my first time back in the New York area since last August, almost 16 months ago, when I flew back here for one of the most memorable weekends of my life---the baptism of my nephew and the funeral of my grandmother (age 101) which occurred simultaneously when my grandmother permanently left her physical body the day before our flight to New York. The initial experiences upon my return were surreal.*

*In fact, I had intended a massive blog post about the synchronistic baptism/funeral experience with many thoughts on reincarnation and Finnegans Wake but I never managed to untangle all those ideas into blog form.

My first night here was spent in Manhattan; its towering buildings, glistening streets, and bustling throngs of people had me in awe. The next morning, my sister and I traveled due south through the narrow city down to Battery Park to catch the Staten Island Ferry back home and I was overwhelmed with a flush of forgotten memories. My first job was as a messenger in 1999 when I was fourteen years old---Battery Park, Greenwich Street, the World Trade Center, even Zuccotti Park (where I learned to play chess), these were my stomping grounds. Somehow, I hadn't dug into my mind to retrieve those memories over the years. They'd been hidden, caked with layers of dust, and now they were suddenly dug up into the bright winter Christmas Eve morning. As we floated on the Ferry back to Staten Island I felt a warmth in my stomach that could only be described as the feeling of being home.

When I left in 2008, my feelings for New York had hardened. I was absolutely sick of this place. It seems the three-and-a-half years I've spent away from it have enabled me to appreciate it with a renewed perspective. Observing the inhabitants of the Isle of Staten, I've often been reminded of a parable I heard recently. Unfortunately, the specifics of said parable haven't responded either to Google searches or my attempts at mnemonics but the main point of it is: fish swimming around are not aware that they are in water. (Edit: found it---told to me by a new friend I met through this very blog---"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and says "Good morning, boys. How's the water?" The two young fish swim on for a bit and eventually one of them looks over at the other one and goes "What the hell is water?")

Everyone I encounter (family, friends, pot-bellied big-mouth goons at Costco) is a New Yorker not quite realizing that they are swimming in a sea of New Yorkers. Having escaped this ocean and swam out west for a while where I'm a rare fish out of water (a native New Yorker in strange land), it is much easier for me to take a broader perspective on the primitive biological ocean that gave birth to my soul. The high-energy bickering of my heavily New York-accented family or the bustling subway crowd doesn't suck me in and stress me out anymore, instead there is a feeling of observant detachment. For the first time since I was child, there is a deep awe and appreciation as I move about this magnificent city.


  1. An old post that I just caught on to. It seems if anything more relevant now. The odd baptism/funeral seems very Wakian, and I think is the kind of thing that happens more often than we know.

  2. Hard to believe this is almost a year ago.

    That was a great time I had in NYC last Christmas, one that will probably never be duplicated.

    And the baptism/funeral story you mention (which still bears elaborating sometime in a future piece of some sort) that occurred back in the summer of 2010 was an incredibly profound synchronicity. Yes, absolutely a scene out of Finnegans Wake. There's a line in the book that struck me as reminiscent of the feeling I had during my grandmother's funeral day as we drove in a procession to deliver her casket to the graveyard. We cruised all throughout Brooklyn where she'd grown up and I glared out the window reflecting on things. Here's the line:

    "the same may see your wedding driving home from your wake" - FW p. 435

    though you can substitute baptism (like marriage, a symbol of procreation) for wedding and that's basically how the whole weekend felt. One person leaves the world while another enters it. Thankfully I got a great picture of my 7-month old nephew sleeping in his stroller right next to a large collage of pictures from my grandmother's 101 years of life.