New York City and Me

Closing in on the end of my two week trip to NYC on a New York Public Library Short Term Research Fellowship where I’ve been going through the Living Theatre archive that is housed in the Billy Rose Theatre Division. For some reason, as I walked through the Highline Park this morning before heading to Lincoln Center (the Performing Arts Library doesn’t open until noon), I had the urge to blog for the first time in a long, long time. Not sure I’ll even go through with it, but if you are reading these words, I have obviously posted.

The archive has been interesting and tedious. To be honest, nothing I have found has set my dissertation afire with new ideas or new evidence, but that is the nature of doing this kind of work. Considering that the archive was donated by Judith Malina, and considering that I’m interested in dismantling parts of the myth that surrounds the company, it’s not a huge surprise that I didn’t find the proverbial “smoking gun” in amongst the many, many letters and documents that I have been going through day after day after day. I am about to start my last day as a Fellow and my last day working in NYC on this trip. Tomorrow morning I board a train bound for Pittsburgh and home.

As I type these words, I am sitting in the little park in the center of Lincoln Center, shaded by trees, surrounded by small birds (sparrows?) hopping about and large, fat pigeons strolling like they completely own the place. Percussionists are ranged around the Paul Milstein Pool and practicing for a concert being held here tonight at 6pm. They are spaced throughout the center and so the sound moves about, coming from bass drums in one corner, cymbals from another. It looks like there will be a number of vocalist for the actual concert and I’m planning on sticking around for it after I finish my time inside. This little park has been lovely the past few days and provides a cool and restful space for writing or reading or just watching people move about the space.

Making these various trips to New York have been interesting, especially this one considering how long I’ve been in the city (I did take a weekend to visit folks and friends in RI). I was so desperately unhappy here during the three years I lived in Brooklyn, spending so much of my time defending myself from the city emotionally and mentally that every day felt like an assault. Yet now, I can visit this city and shrug off the noise of the streets and the subways, navigate the crowds with a level of ease and confidence, and in general accept the city on its own terms rather than trying to shut it out. Is it simply because I don’t live here and know that I’ll be leaving? Am I more centered in myself and my life? Probably both of those things have something to do with the change in how I relate to this city, and there are probably other reasons and changes as well. I find it interesting and a bit sad because I still regret that I spent so much of my time here with Joya in such an unhappy state because she deserved better from me during that time.

One last realization about my time here:

The city, especially when it is hot (and it was quite hot the other day), makes it impossible to forget just how embodied our lives our. I think that’s one of the elements of NYC in general that is a product of a great many people living in an urban space: your body is always present whether it is the heat and oppression of the subway platform, or the press of bodies in a subway car, or the awareness of space and bodies as you walk through mid-town (an awareness of space that most tourists don’t have which is why they are so damned annoying to New Yorkers—and while I am not a New Yorker, I am certainly, and proudly, not a tourist!), or the smell of the rotting garbage along the streets. Your body and its senses are brought to the fore in ways that cannot be avoided.

(The percussionists are currently playing sandpaper, creating a sshhhh-sshhhhh-ssshhhhhhsshhing sound that is revolving around and around the square.)

Honestly, I don’t want to go into the library in 20 minutes when it opens. I want to sit out here, enjoy the breeze and the shade and the susurrations of conversations and the squealing joy of children and the relative stillness in the midst of continual motion. I have a feeling that I won’t last too long in there today. I have one box on reserve and may not do more than that before leaving. Truth is, I’ve made my way through ream and reams of documents, taking over 1000 pictures of letters and box office reports and bills, getting through probably 3/4 of a 60 box collection—and most of that 1/4 that I haven’t looked at consists of documentation outside the period I’m looking at for my dissertation. I do feel like I have a responsibility to be here every day since I was given a fellowship for that purpose, but I’m close to diminishing returns here. This last box has production programs which I’ve seen a bunch of previously at UC Davis, but which I will make sure I document again and then, I think, I’ll come back outside, grab some lunch and just be and thank. Maybe write a little more. Maybe read. Maybe go for a walk in Central Park or maybe just come back out here and sit and watch and listen.