Sunday, June 1, 2014

Look Up, Look Down

It’s important to look down in New York City. Cobblestone streets are waiting to break your ankle; sidewalks are cracked and uneven and too often smeared with dog poop or coated with ice. You literally have to watch your steps.

But you have to look up, too. Up to street level, to see who’s around you, who’s wearing what, whom you might be about to bump into, which bicycle messenger riding the wrong way down a one-way street is going to mow you down, which shaft of sunlight is turning the leaves a translucent yellow-green or setting an ordinary block on fire during the golden hour.
10th Street, West Village

Then look up further, to see the juxtapositions of water towers and capitalism…

Broadway and Houston Street, Soho

…and the intricate motifs carved into buildings all over this city, high above the street, where they can be enjoyed by—whom? Pigeons? I love that these exist, that so much care went into crafting ornamentation and detail nearly for its own sake.

14th floor, Central Park West

In answer to one of those ubiquitous what-makes-a-real-New-Yorker questionnaires that people here love so much, someone said, “Real New Yorkers never stop to look up at the tops of buildings.”

I thought, “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. What a waste of a life.” But I realized recently that I, too, have been guilty of not looking up.

It’s been a complex few months, with two family health crises (one happily resolved; the other ongoing), The Child graduating from college and moving back to the West Coast, and a shifting work landscape that has left me, like one of My Beloved's cartoons, with question marks floating around my head.

Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies: "Fishy Story"

My response has been to keep my head down. I have a tendency, when things get emotionally complicated, to go inward; to let things roil around inside and to never speak of it for fear of letting the beast out of the cage. The problem with that is, the beast just gnaws away at the inside.

Then a young man with mental health issues and knives and semi-automatic weapons went on a rampage at UCSB, killing six people and himself, and I felt despair—again—at living in a society that places more value on an individual’s right to arm himself with weapons of mass destruction than on the right of first graders and college kids not to be shot to death.

So, what with internal forces meeting external forces, I spent more time than I cared to in a miasmic fog of negativity and self-doubt. I can’t swear that I’ve left it behind, but in the last few days, something changed. Spring sprung. There was a shift in the Force.

As my dear-friend-whom-I-haven’t-met-yet, J Clement Wall, said in a recent blog post, “I think it really may be just this simple: to get unstuck, say YES.”

Yesterday, My Beloved and I did some work together on a book project we’re cooking up. It’s a really, really good idea, and it’s on a topic close to my nerdy heart. We had fun with it. And then we went for a long walk up the river, from the West Village to our favorite riverside café at 70th Street.

Within the first five minutes of our walk, it started sprinkling. Then raining. Then hammering down like arrows against a medieval battlement. We hid under the eave of a warehouse to wait it out, and eventually the gray cracked open to reveal hope.
Hudson River Park bikeway, Chelsea

This is a trip we usually make by bike in 20 minutes. Walking it over the course of an hour and a half gave us the chance to see things in focus that are usually a peripheral blur—and gave me the opportunity to lurch to a stop every few feet to snap pictures. Of the aircraft carrier Intrepid:

The menace with an iPhone.

Of kayakers on the shimmering Hudson:

Hudson River Park, Chelsea

And, unexpectedly, of a giant wine bottle in Clinton—a sculpture by Malcolm Cochran called Private Passage, with portholes revealing an interior that looked like that of an Airstream trailer but is supposed to be a Queen Mary stateroom.
Private Passage, Pier 96, Clinton

We got to the café, mobbed with families and couples and bikers and dogs, many of whom—not the dogs—were threading their way among the tables with sloshing pitchers of beer and sangria. We scored seats under the shade of a sage-green umbrella and drank our beer while traffic on the Henry Hudson Parkway overhead provided a vacuum-cleaner-in-the-apartment-upstairs ambience.
Pier i Café, Riverside Park, Upper West Side

Sitting and sipping, I thought to look up:
Umbrellas, Pier i Café 

Afterwards, we headed uphill away from the river, arriving in a forest of Trump towers:
Riverside Drive, Upper West Side
But by now, not even the garish hand of The Donald could spoil my mood. We walked east to the Lincoln Center subway stop…

66th Street/Lincoln Center stop, 1 train

…and rattled our way home. This morning, the first of June, before 7 a.m., I opened my eyes and looked up.

I whispered “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit,” with the hopeful little thought that it would bring me luck for the month. I think so. Things are looking up.

** Click any photo to enlarge and see slideshow.


tina cockburn said...

Lovely, Sue. I always enjoy reading your posts. You and Stan are quite the creative duo and I know your new project will be amazing. As they always are.

Katherine C. James said...

This is lovely. I share your tendency to turn inward and ruminate. Increasingly, I'm changing those internal conversations. I *always* feel better when I air them with someone I love who loves me. In 2007, when I was at the Depths of Bad in my life, a couple I know advised me to just keep saying yes to things: invitations, plans, my own ideas that seem too perilous to attempt. (Particularly that last one.) I see that in certain ways I've already done this my whole life courtesy of my dad. But recently, the closer to my heart something is, the harder I find it is to just say yes. I'm doing that now after an extended period of chaos that did not allow me to do anything but crisis management. I wish you well with your latest plans. xo. xi.

Susan Champlin said...

Thank you, @Tina. Hope to get this one into the hands of your kiddos. xo

@Katherine: I know we have even more in common than we already knew we do. And you are so right about feeling better 'when I air them with someone I love who loves me.' That's the ticket. xo. xi.

Michele Hush said...

Wonderful, Susan. I love seeing our city through your eyes.

Janet said...

I think it has become your city.