Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Postcards: Traffic

1. Sometimes when a train (not my train, this is always something I see while I'm waiting for a different train, a train that sometimes feels like it's never going to get there) is pulling away from the stop, it squeals along the tracks like the first three notes of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere," where the lovers sing, "There's a place..." but we never hear the next note or the next word and then the train, the one that isn't my train, is gone. I swear, one out of every five trains plays these notes, in a squeal, but at the true pitches. I'll catch it on video some day.

2. You can't deny that you live in a dystopian landscape. Giant tubes emerge from manholes, smoking like construction-orange cigarettes. The city in the distance (from Brooklyn, from Queens) is almost always under a haze. On my ride to work this morning, a block sealed off due to a smoking construction site. I walk my bike past the fumes and the fire trucks, wondering what I'm inhaling.

3. New York drivers honk at everything. If you don't move fast enough when the light turns green. If you are a pedestrian, jaywalking up to 100 yards in front of them and in danger of slowing their progress. If you are a biker, weaving too erratically between lanes. It's prophylactic, the aural grease on the wheels of a river that no one wants to clog, but especially not for them.

4. It's heady to look down at the road in some parts of Midtown and realize you have four lanes of frantic traffic managing with no markers at all, with bare black asphalt and the best that fluid dynamics can manage. It's never more apparent than here that we are making this system work by sheer force of will.

4a. One fire truck barrels the wrong way up 2nd Avenue, which is a one-way street pointed at downtown Manhattan. This fire truck is going uptown. Somehow, the traffic parts.

5. The subway is always full of musicians. But today, the bridge I bike first over, then under each morning (making a shape like a backwards 4) has a saxophonist stationed under it, playing for the pedestrians and cyclists who stream up and down and past the bridge. Somehow, he's still there, or there again, when I head home for the day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New York: first postcards

1. Sometimes you will be walking down the street in Queens, or the Village, or Brooklyn (never Midtown, rarely the upper east side) and ahead of you, just at the edge of your understanding, there will be a man's torso seemingly buried in the sidewalk, his head at hip level. It's always on the second glance that you realize he's emerging from a basement, often a grocery store basement, and on either side of him the heavy cellar doors have been flung open to admit a new shipment of something, or to allow this disconcerting halfway-here man to restock an empty shelf. Later the same day, you walk across these same basements, now closed, and the clanging of your shoes on the metal reminds you that there's no truly solid ground to be found here.

2. More than once I've gotten off the subway at a new-to-me stop, and a woman near me with a New York or neutral-to-me accent (not identifiable as a tourist, in other words) has asked me for directions. "Sorry, this is my first time at this stop," I admit. "Oh," she says, "mine too."  

3. This city smells. It is a rippling wonderland of smells. The open doors of a laundromat. Piss. Cherry trees. Sewage. The damp humidity of two dozen sweating bodies in your subway car. Perfume. Garbage. Car exhaust at every bridge and intersection. Piss again. On a good day, rain (petrichor), and the pretzel stand on the corner, and the ice cream truck on the other corner, and dumplings, and garlic, and hot dogs and curry and bike grease. And whatever the cosmic background radiation of the city was before you went nose blind weeks ago -- whatever smell the city has when it doesn't smell like these other things. Surely the buildings themselves have a smell. To be honest, I'd prefer the stink of piss to someone's too-heavy perfume on any day of the week.

4. Small kindnesses. A bus driver lets me get away without paying full fare, my second day here, because I haven't figured out the system yet. A woman in the locker room at the gym offers to help me zip the back of my dress because it's awkward and we all know that struggle. 

5. Bicycling to work. Where the steepest hill in this flatland is the Queensboro Bridge, and the worst you'll find anywhere else is potholes. At best, the bikers have their own lane protected by concrete. At worst, they flit and flow with traffic, not even paint on the road to tell them where to be. The most beautiful sight, in this land of lovely glass towers and dazzling reflections, is the morning commute in Manhattan, when by chance or by physics a dozen or so cyclists synch up and flow together up 2nd Avenue -- flitting past turning cabs, weaving horribly around anything that holds still too long, which is most cars because this is rush hour in Manhattan, dinging our bells at pedestrians who aren't aware we're coming and it's our turn to be here. There is a horrible chaos here on every street: everyone wears headphones even at peak traffic, someone will always be coming at you from the wrong direction, and no one cares whose turn it is or isn't to turn left. No one is ready for you to follow the rules or stop moving when the light turns yellow. But in these moments of synchronicity, the bicycles have an ordered beauty, like a school of small fish darting their collective mass toward safe harbor around seals, sharks, and the lumbering whales of buses.   

6. Why does anyone wear heels here why.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Change feels like death because it is

On Saturday morning I'm driving outta the state I've lived nearly 30 years with a truck full of stuff and one orange cat. People keep asking me how I'm feeling. I have days where I have a lot of feelings, and days where I'm too drained from Taking Care Of Things to access my feelings. Then I feel bad for not having access to my feelings at moments when I am sitting across from someone I will miss very much, who I know I will miss very much, but who I can't feel the imminent absence of because it's still not happening Yet.

At other times, I just feel insane with greed for more time. For all that I'm inflicting this on myself, for the best possible reasons, I am greedy.

Yesterday, one of my closest friends tattooed the outlined of the Great Lakes on my back, moving from west to east. From Wisconsin to New York. Wisconsin sits behind my heart, and together with an older piece, I have Wisconsin shapes cradling two sides of my left lung.

And then there's the spot where the Mackinac Bridge, three different lakes, a hoard of intersections all converge at my spine, which hurt the most of the whole process. It also happened to be the boundary between Superior/Michigan and everything else. Those first two lakes I know. Intimately. Summers on Lake Michigan at my grandfather's house, perched on the flat shore rocks reading or watching the sunset. The bay where I cut my foot and needed stitches and my mother carried me dripping down the beach. The first picture of an endless vastness I would later understand was just child's play compared to the ocean.

And Superior, my second great love, iceburged in April and desolate. Flooded with tourists in July. The place I have been most myself, that lone woman driving her red Honda, stopping when she feels like it, camera in hand at every thunderstorm and overlook.

And ahead, there's Huron, Erie, Ontario. Places I know, but more vaguely. Shores I have stared from, but only once, years ago. Places that don't - yet - feel part of my world.

Pain is at the boundaries. Between land and water. Between skin and air. Known and unknown. The moment when you put the truck into gear and tilt down the hill toward the highway, slowly at first and then with gathering speed.

Monday, March 28, 2016

C.T. Phone Home

I created this blog in 2008 because I was moving to Cape Town for 6 months and wanted to write about it for my friends and family.

It's easier to blog than to answer the same thrilled question--"How is the place where you are?"--fifteen times.

Also, my mom liked it.

Since then, this blog has been a dusty spot, mostly, with some small postcards about Wisconsin for the people I love who are not in Wisconsin.

Now I am moving to New York. This time, not for 6 months (hopefully) and instead for the forseeable future, until the part of the future that trails off into a question mark.

I have lived all but 19 months in Madison, Wisconsin. 13 of those months were in Baraboo, Wisconsin, just a small sigh away, still fully in Wisconsin, still spending weekends in my hometown.

I think I am going to be blogging more, now. Already I am fielding the same question dozens of times.

Do you know where you are living yet? No.
Will you be skating in New York? I have begun talks, but my body and life may not accommodate it immediately. 
Are you excited? I keep waiting to be told this is a joke or a dream.
Will you miss Wisconsin? My lungs collapse at the thought.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas On The Good Earth

I stumbled across the Apollo 8 Christmas broadcast on, you guessed correctly, Christmas Eve. I just got back from a trip that included the Air & Space Museum in D.C. I haven't been excited like that in a long time. Which is funny, because the first time I ever went there (8th grade, school trip) I was bored out of my mind.

Here's something I put on Facebook. I'm resisting the temptation to rewrite in more "bloggy" language: 
An astronomer friend once asked me why I love space crap so much. Some of it is how small the scale of the galaxies makes me feel, in the good way where I know it's up to me to make meaning in my life, because the universe is expanding / everything is pulling slowly apart and nothing will last long enough for the time I wasted picking my nose to matter. 
& a lot of it is how much the history of space exploration represents some of the highest levels of hope and optimism in humanity. The Voyager I & 2 missions were some of the craziest things we've ever done. Hey, hypothetical intelligent life, here is a GOLDEN record containing some classical music, a baby crying, and scientific diagrams that can be decoded based on the time it takes for hydrogen to transition between its two lowest-energy states. We'll toss it out of the solar system and maybe some day someone will see it. Come find us if we're still around / maybe don't kill us! 
That's beautiful to me. And so friends, happy holidays, happy solstice, merry Christmas, & may your life be full of far more joy than sadness.

Voyager record replica at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum