Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This Planet

Why would we ever need to visit space and its assorted rocks? Why dive into the sea to see what there is to see? Why stink of pachouli and backpack all over Europe?
Within my own country, I am still a foreigner with much to see, much to mock and not understand.
Remember that rather embarrassing song where Sting sang, "I don't drink coffee, I take tea my dear. I (something, something more genteel with my toast than you Americans, and then something, something classier than you Americans, tra, la, la)....I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York!"? Of course that's a blushingly silly song, one Sting certainly hopes nobody recalls, and yet, and yet. I'm ashamed to say it, but I feel you, Sting.

This week, my mother visited me from the Colorado orchard town where I grew up, bearing along with her a shimmering attitude and some family videos from the '80s. In days of yore, the days of antetechnologia, the gods lovingly allowed Man the gift of forgetting his past and replacing it with some generous reconstructions and revisions. I was quite enjoying this nice gift myself before my mother's visit. Eyes shut and peering down a hole which with a little effort widens upon my fuzzy teen years in Colorado, I have seen the vignettes I've created, the self-portraits and dioramas of a heartbreaking teen loner with madly dyed hair and artfully altered mall-clothing skulking and kicking along crow-ridden vacant lots at a bruised dusk. She is shunning the ever-so-ordinary citizenry of the orchard town who would have loved to have known this special teen if she could only have risen through her soul-pain to let them in. But why bother? She was too deep for them. She had to leave.
But alas, the hard evidence of my youth is now before me, crammed into a pretty little disk. I see now that I wasn't a loner in any cool, photographable way. I was actually a loner in a walking wound, smell the tortured trying and recent crying sort of way. The me I am now would cross the street to get away from the disaster of the me I was then. I was clumsy and never got around to fixing the back of my hair as I don't think I realized that I could be viewed at 360 degrees. My facial features were rounded, puffy, and ill-defined, still deciding which way to go and sprouting shadowy fuzz in suprising places. I wore what my mom gave me for Christmas because I didn't know better and it was ruffled and patchworked. One developing breast outpaced the other. I was cruel to my mother on Christmas, sneering at her video camera nastily while my sisters and brother were cute, sassy, and joyful (yet pretty ugly as well at that point.) The gist of the past is really what matters I guess. We dress it up however we need to. I was alone then, just like Sting (though he wasn't quite alone at that time but rather surrounded by the Police. He would speak to his alienation in four years hence, the years when I really got a grip on New Wave in Utah.)

So, where am I now? I'm not decorating the present too much when I call myself a loner with no sense of home planet. I do not belong in the orchard town of my messy adolescence. I never did. I no longer belong in Utah with its unrecognizable but predictable strip-malls sprouting up where the landmarks I've known have, sadly, vanished. ( I find this very painful.) And here? Here in New York City? I still step outside my building every morning as I drag the kids through the streets of Brooklyn to PS 108308 and wonder how I got here. I feel like I am participating in a fictional accounting of Me. And yet, and yet.

I stopped an ancient Chinese woman in the park this morning to ask her what she was collecting off of the ground. Hurricane season has whipped up a little weather in the city and the gingko trees have much windfall at their bases today. The woman wore a garbage bag over her clothes in the driving rain and gathered the gingko fruit with surgical gloves into a burgeoning grocery bag. It smelled like vomit. "Ugh. Why? What do you do with them?" I asked. She made a motion with her hands up to her open mouth in a pantomime of happy eating. I wanted to know more because I couldn't see any good reason to ingest these foul fruits. She just shook her head, waved me on, and got back to collecting. We don't have language in common and so I can't get her recipes for, oh, essence of regurgitance soup. We are both alien visitors. We both walk this city in the way that we need to for totally different reasons, Gingko Lady and me. And Sting.

Perhaps this is how I belong then. Perhaps this is what makes New Yorkers.


Anonymous A fellow former inhabitant of the orchard valley said...

And Fatty thinks he's the writer in the family. Your pen is as mighty as your paintbrush.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Errorista said...

You know I get that feeling, always had it, that I’m outside looking in. Even after living in NYC for three years, I felt like a tourist. I felt like I was getting away with pretending that I lived there, and that pretty soon, the real New Yorkers would oust me. I guess they did. But soon it’ll be you and me against the world again Brooklyn. And this time I promise to tell you if the back of your hair looks funny. For what it’s worth, I thought you were beautiful in your painful youth.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Royte said...

A roasted gingko appetizer costs in the low two figures at Masa, over at the Time Warner Building. They are a bit labor intensive. First you have to collect them, then you remove the shells (keep your gloves on!), boil the nuts to remove the skins, dry the nuts, then coat them with a little oil and roast away.

4:07 PM  
Blogger newbrooklyner said...

Ok. It's, "gingko?" You would know, Elizabeth Royte. You would also know how to prepare them.

Grand Valley fellow, thanks. I don't use a pen. I think you mean keyboard.

Err, you are coming to NYC to steal my clothes again. I know this already.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

i have 2 things to say.

1. i don't like it when anyone pulls out photos of me when i was a teenager. i don't think anyone does. and i hate it when they pull out video, because then my one hope -- i'm ugly and awkward only when taken out of context -- is gone. and yet, i love watching the super 8 movies. those were great. especially of the weasel trying to get the fish.

2. why do people keep slamming me as a component of complimenting my sisters?

5:33 PM  
Anonymous a fellow formal inhabitant of the orchard valley said...

newbrooklyner: Of course I meant keyboard. I thought 'pen' sounded more alliterative and poetic.

Besides that, I really don't know how 'mighty' your keyboard is--it depends on whether it's hooked to a Mac or a Wintel machine.

fatty: Because it's fun.

Take no offense--I've been starving for well crafted humor ever since Dave Barry gave up the day job. You fill the void in spades.

You and your sisters all have an amazing deftness with prose and are true gems among the mostly dross world of bloggers. Keep it up!

7:57 PM  
Blogger ZinniaSoCA said...

Were you not such a brilliant painter, I would suggest the writing of articles, poetry, stories, books as a vocation. Can you manage two vocations?

You captured absolutely that feeling of angst suffered by so many in the teen years. And your insight into it in retrospect is brilliant.



11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is that your gifts are too maginified to allow you the privelege of peace. My youth was, from the outside, remarkably different from yours. I was mainstream, popular, and by many assessments, gifted. And yet, my isolation, fear, humiliations, self doubts, and my sense of not belonging were much as you have described--our lives intersect on those points. Oddly, though, if you knew me you would never believe that we have anything in common. I fled from the place of my past to the city where "surely there will be there, many like me". I felt like I belonged. For awhile. One day, not long ago, I was at the home of my childhood. There was an odd sense there--one of belonging--one that I had not felt ever while growing up there. All of the energy and the time that I had spent convincing myself that I was different, that I did not belong in that place came rushing at me swirling sensations, smells, sounds, voices from my past that spoke clearly to me. For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged. Not to a place--surely not that place, not to any place or thing or group. No. Place no longer mattered. I did not choose my birthplace, my experiences, my gifts, the finite set of my available associations. They were imposed upon me. And yet, I am the sum total of them all. It came to me that the only place that I will ever feel comfortable, safe and accepted is in the company of a very few family members (and that has its own set of fragile conditions)and in my own heart and mind. Your gifts are great--greater than most. You should allow yourself the luxury of peace inside of your gifts as you, through them, touch lives around you.

2:32 PM  
Blogger newbrooklyner said...

Fatty, you are the ruler against which the rest of us will forever be measured. You rule for real, super8 or vhs.

Zin, thanks. I'm still wondering what a vocation really is. I suspect that collecting acorns into cleaned out spaghetti sauce jars to line my window sill could be my true vocation.

Former fellow, I think I'm going to use, "dross" for this season in all conversations. People are going to love me now.

Anon. What can I say? You are a precise and accurate writer. You net what you (and I) are trying to say with such apparent ease that I know you must do this as your vocation.

"Perhaps it is that your gifts are too maginified to allow you the privelege of peace."

deserves a good long mull.

I think you know about this.
Anyway, yes, "home," or belonging, is a maddeningly flexible place and eventually can become a location only next to the people you least suspected.

Thank you.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oddly, collecting acorns into cleaned out spaghetti sauce jars to line my window sill is my true vocation, though i have had to work hard to perfect my craft. Is it that eventually (and even from time to time presently) we stand alone, beside none?

4:14 PM  
Anonymous dug said...

you're bringing me down, man.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Threeblognight said...

Thanks for stopping by my site. You have quite the talented family. My daughter (the artist) is impressed with your work. She's only 8 but has a keen eye.

one question....Do you guys get together for the holidays and talk BLOGS?

3:14 PM  

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