Ode to New York City

Feliz New Year, everyone! I’ve just returned from 66 hours in my favorite city on the planet — NYC — which I spent with six of my closest friends. It was the first time I’d been back since my rather disastrous exit a year and a half ago…

I first moved to Brooklyn two weeks after 9/11 and stayed until December 2004, when I left for Mexico to research Mexican Enough. After spending the 2005-2006 academic year at Princeton, I realized the road was wide open. I had lined up some speaking gigs and residencies in the year ahead, but there wasn’t enough income to live anyplace in between — certainly not in the Northeast, anyway. So I took a vow of nomadism and stuffed three-quarters of my belongings into a U-Haul storage facility in Chelsea (Manhattan). It stayed there THREE YEARS, at $100 a month! I knew it was ridiculous to pay so much rent for a few (well, 20) boxes of clothes, photos, books, and mismatched cutlery (plus some errant furniture I’d swiped off the streets of Brooklyn late at night), but I didn’t know what else to do with it… until I decided to go to grad school. Then the problem became transporting everything from the U-Haul in Chelsea to my new apartment in Iowa City. At first, I tried to hire a moving company, but I kept getting quotes of $3,000 and more. It quickly became apparent that I had to deal with it myself. Gracias a Dios, my friend Sonya volunteered to help. Another angel appeared at the U-Haul facility itself: a guy from Bermuda who had just gotten kicked out of his girlfriend’s apartment, with nary a bath towel to his name. We made a deal: he’d take whatever I gave him, junk or treasure. Sonya and I spent three manic days sifting through all my stuff and either moving it into Bermuda Man’s storage unit or packing it up for UPS Man. Total cost: $600, but I swear I lost a few years in the process.

Anyway. That was July 2009, and I hadn’t returned since. It felt glorious to be back again. NYC, to me, is a place of reinvention. You can be whomever or whatever whenever you desire. Take my six friends, for example. All are in their mid-30s to mid-40s, and all are in the middle of amazing metamorphosis. One just became a published author. Another recently enrolled in Acupuncture School, while a third is preparing to apply to MFA Programs. Still another has just ended a painful relationship, while another is currently moving his theater company into an extraordinary new space. All are jazzed about the new roads ahead, and feel lucky to thrive in the city where second, fourth, and twelfth lives abound.

Being in NYC on New Year’s Day was doubly sweet, as I like to think of every New Year as a time for mini-reinvention. On the bulk of New Years of my adult life, I had no clue where I would be living or what I would be doing by the end. At this point, 2011 seems fairly straight forward: I’ll be hunkered down in Iowa City during the academic year and running around Asia and South Texas during the summer. But I have a feeling my life will be taking a new direction this year as well. When I return to Iowa next week, I’ll be participating in a week-long seminar at the Obermann Graduate Institute, where I’ll be part of a group of 15 young academics looking to incorporate activism in what we do. I’ve spent the past two weeks reading about things like “radical pedagogy” and “service-learning” and other ways of building solidarity between a university and the surrounding community. At the end of the week, we’ll each present a project that we hope to someday implement. I’m envisioning something like Dave Egger’s marvelous 826 Valencia Writing Center for kids, only here in South Texas.

Y tu? How will you be reinventing yourself in 2011? I wish you peace and joy in whatever you do. Thanks so much for listening. I just realized this is the one-year anniversary of this blog, and I very much appreciate everyone’s support. Happy New Year!