Saturday 22 September 2007
along 5th avenue.
"Irish!" I called after him, the way I do here, sometimes.
He didn't turn around.
It's irresistible to me, when I hear it. It sounds so beautiful. I have had a number of conversations with people in the street purely on the basis of hearing my home accent. And it's interesting, because there is a relationship between the amount of time a person has been living away from their home country, and the strength of their desire to talk to another Irish person purely because of the resonant music of Irishness.
A thought struck me last night, walking home (from Freddy's: look, any time you see me writing about the thoughts I have on the way home, just know it happened after Freddy's, I think I'll have to make a new label: walking home from Freddy's) and it was very simple: love for one's country grows in exile. That has been my experience, and while exile is a grandiose kind of a word, I like it for what it signifies to me underneath and before the grandiosity.
And it's true in my case. I have found myself having a sense and feeling of Ireland that is entirely new, a love for the place that has actually only really come into existence since I moved away from it. It grows inside you. I think that's probably just the natural way of things. When you're in a place, the tendency is to take it for granted, and crib about the small stuff, and then when you're away from it, the broad strokes come into relief. I think age has a lot to do with it, aswell, though maturity and age do not often, actually, dovetail.
One of the things I love about new york city (and there are many, and I want to write about all of them, ultimately) is the ubiquity of the English language. It's just so easy to understand and be understood by people here. And you get to hear all kinds of interesting stuff, stuff you can understand. I only have this particular appreciation for the fact that I hear English everywhere because I lived in Denmark for three and a half years, and one of the things I missed very much about living there was that I felt so shut off from streetlife in that way, so shut off from the overheard joke, and the generalness of things.
Also, the more you speak English to people for whom it is not their native tongue - no matter how fluent they are - your own language skills start going down the toilet fast. You lose your slang, you lose your jive, you pick up bad habits in your own language that are prevalent in non-native speakers. And when you speak their language, you're only ever able to express yourself mediocrely, at best. However, despite all this, I had some profound and beautiful moments of connection with people through Danish. In particular, the old people I visited and cared for, during my last months there. That was where it all happened, with Danish, for me.
You can hear every language being spoken here in new york city. I have an appreciation for people who come to a strange place without knowing the language. I was stopped for directions on Prospect Park West by a middle aged man with almost no English, who I could just about make out was looking for Montgomery st., and he was rolling a delivery trolley. I didn't know where it was, but I shouted to the people behind, and they didn't know either. Anyway, I bade him good luck on his way. Jesus, though, I thought, and turned around to the people behind again, and said,
"Jesus. Imagine not being able to speak English and coming to new york city, and trying to survive?" That is just unfuckingfathomable. And it happens, thousands of times every day. Anyway, it turns out that the people behind were from Namibia and Germany, had been living in the city for a long time, and they had their own stories to share.
Learning a new language in situ is challenging, under any circumstances, especially if you have no choice but to speak it through the day, to be in that mode of trying to understand, all the time. It's like a switch that is permanently on, in your brain. You're reaching out, in some inexplicable way, constantly, to catch subtle inflections, throwaway vowel sounds, a look in the eye. You get used to spending entire years of your life catching 10, 15, 20% of conversations, of never getting the joke even when you understand it, of constantly being, to a greater or lesser extent, out of things, outside of the culture. Because you are. I think you need a very strong anchor to keep you in a monoculture that is not your own, and one that is so strongly based on its own traditions, like Denmark is.
And I've met people who have that anchor, they found it through love, through marriage and family. I didn't find anyone who was not Danish, who found that anchor through love of the place itself, there. But I'm sure there are people who have settled there, particularly along the west coast, who found that kind of love, that kind of devotion, to the place, the landscape. People find that feeling every day in Ireland. The place is jumping with every nationality in the world. It's like a mini-new york.
I find it here.
Friday 21 September 2007
I think there's a balancing point, in the life of a writer, where edge meets tightrope skills, where passion for place co-exists with thriving groove within its particular landscape, and where the flame of the word is burning in the heart, without resistance.
And I think that balancing point is where a writer must be, in order to be able to produce great work. It cannot be prescribed, but it can be recognized. I see it every time I read Martin Amis, for instance, even though he's probably an uptight rat-arse. I think the less petty life becomes, also, the more space becomes available for something beautiful to happen.
I am living in an overlooked apartment this week, and again a few weeks ago, for just about the first time in my life (!) and that includes elsewhere in new york city, new orleans, denmark and ireland. It's a great apartment, roomy and centrally located in Park Slope, utterly quiet and peaceful with a row of brownstone backyards opposite.
I love the space and the well equipped kitchen, and the rhythm of life here: writing, walking the whippets, writing, loading and unloading the dishwasher, thinking about dinner, making coffee, walking the whippets, writing... but the fact that I am visible when I walk around naked is a new one on me. However, I enjoy the kind of somewhat-intimacy that is part of this kind of landscape of facing windows. I think it's a duty of living in this kind of arrangement to be visible at least a part of the day. I try to keep this visibility clothed, at least, but it feels right to me that people can see me going about my day, and I glance in at their lives. The only one with full visibility though, at least with the lights on, is the fiddle player who lives opposite and down a floor, who has only one flimsy green see-through piece of cloth on one half of one of the windows, probably for decoration rather than privacy.
There is a neighbourhood budding horn player, who has been verbally instructed, via my next door neighbour's fire escape window, to discontinue any hopes of a career, and who seems, sadly, to have taken the advice, or perhaps found a practise room. There's a guitar player elsewhere whose sound is mute and pleasant enough to be able to survive such approbrium. I say it again, I have no such difficulty because I have no guitar here, though I sing sometimes, and I miss the bollocks out of the guitar I left behind in Copenhagen.
The fire escape here is gorgeous, and I have slept on it. But it has been thrilling to live in the flat I've subletted all summer long up in Prospect Heights.
The thrill is in its fire escape, with its view of Manhattan ( I saw the Chrysler building's wicked white witch hat of light get turned on one night last week, while eating my dinner out there!) and its tall trees and its huge huge sky and no one overlooking and the basketball court in the middle-near distance where men met to play late in the hot summer nights, and the children's playground with its distant daily bustle and the huge vista of flat, low rooftops all the way to manhattan. And the butterflies dancing and lovemaking together in twos all the livelong day, and the crickets and cicada have played a summer-long jam right outside my window. I have heard and seen birds outside my window this summer I do not recognise, whose sounds call to be heard. And the sufi man has sung every break of day into existence on the balcony of the penthouse on the corner.
I relish every moment there. Actually, I relish every moment. Here.
Thursday 20 September 2007
Lest there be any doubt about it, I am currently sharing my bed with a pair of whippets. Rather, they're sharing their bed with me. I'm the interloper. But we're really having a blast. They sleep under the blankets, resting their heads on my feet.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning, with a whippet's head on the pillow beside me.
Right. It's-last-pee-of-the-night - time for the ladies. And so we to bed.
I had what struck me as an ambitious thought, this evening. I thought, I'd like to own a brownstone on a really great Brooklyn block, and live in it some of the year, offering it to sound people on some kind of a cheap basis in order to live and make interesting work in new york city without selling their arses, the rest of the time.
Gosh, that's quite ambitious, I thought.
And then I thought, yeah, to me it is. But that probably wouldn't necessarily strike somebody else as particularly ambitious, AT ALL. David and Victoria Beckham, for instance, I found myself thinking, would probably see no particular ambition there at all.
So you see, these things are all relative.
Prospect Heights News: two slugs were seen on 6th avenue moving slowly toward each other this evening
Stay tuned for updates as the story develops.
Did I write about the lunatic I saw recently? An actual lunatic human being, out on the street, uncared for. He's a park slope regular, what we'd call a character, in Dublin. Well, I had a human, friendly interaction with him, yesterday. He shakes a starbucks carton out there on 7th ave, looking for change. He's got about 10 plastic bags with stuff in them, and each plastic bag is really more a of a unit of plastic bags, probably about 10 of them doubled up and frayed and filthy, forming each unit.
Anyway, last night we said howrya, and it was honest, low-key, casual and true. It was nice to see his human face. So this evening, I emptied out my loose change and dropped it in his can. "Them's really nice earrings" he says, dropping compliments for hopes of cash reward the way the guy who stands by the Flatbush 7th ave Q train entrance does.
That was such a fucking pity.
There's a white camper van parked on 7th ave with a sign in the venetian blinded window saying "Psychic Advice, $2." I bet it's no phoney, neither.
I think I'd be spooked going to a psychic who advertised his services discreetly for $2, and who clearly lives in a camper van that he parks all over the gentrified areas of Brooklyn. He might just know what he's talking about.
Wednesday 19 September 2007
Found and pocketed, last night, on the way home from Freddy's:
1 copy of Dante's Inferno, on a lamppost
1 copy of John Updike's Rabbit, Run, on a stoop
Seen and resisted:
The contents of a depressed intellectual's renounced life, in a cardboard box. Contents included Dostoyevsky and Thomas Mann novels, and a single black eyepatch. Hurrah! The Wicked Witch is Dead!
Elsewhere, a brownstone homeowner on 6th avenue has clearly had the dream shattered. Her stash of Daphne Du Maurier novels (and it was exhaustive) lay on her stoop's second to last step, naked and offered to the world.
It's a neighbourhood of readers, reading and releasing, reading and releasing, furiously.
Tuesday 18 September 2007
Writing Internship or Build Your Portfolio with Fear Driven Stories
Can you come up with fear driven stories worthy of a newspaper? Your story will be read by 20,000 people a day or more.
A High Tech NYC company seeks budding writer to assist in creating a multitude of stories relating to cheating, law enforcement, child endangerment, criminal activity and more.
If you would like to offer your talents to build up your portfolio and credit, then we would love to have you be a part of our team. This is a non-paid internship. You can come here for school credits or just for fun. Once you are finished with your stay here, we will be more than happy to offer phenomenal recommendations wherever you may go.
On a side note, we have tons of really cool high tech gadgets to play with every day, many you can take home. The skys the limit to showcase all your writing talents. We won’t hold you back.
Reply to this email and we will get back to you right away.
... it just posted this.
Dunkin Donuts for Creative Writing!
I have $200 worth of Gift Certificates for Dunkin Donuts in exchange for some creative writing. They have over 18 different types of coffees, lattes, as well as their donuts and breakfast sandwiches which make perfect writing companions!
Basically, I'm an artist/game designer who needs some characters and storylines fleshed out. I have the basic skeletal outlines but need someone to fill em in.
E-mail me for more details!
... that's a Ben and Jerry's flavour, folks in Europe! And my local Met store sells them for $2.50 a pop! And it's a bit of a pun, also. The themes will dovetail nicely, as you read on. Just like a tub of the good stuff.
Well I can't believe I've been blogging for a few weeks with almost no mention of craigslist. Let the silence be broken here, and now.
I advertise my writing and editing services on craigslist (hereafter known as cl). It's a pretty wide-ranging clientele, which keeps things interesting, and work does come in. There are of course many people on cl who are looking for people to write business proposals or do line-editing as some sort of charitable donation to the city of new york, but they don't get it from me.
I rarely look at other writers' ads, but I just spotted a guy who has advertised himself as
***THE VERY BEST EDITOR ON CRAIGSLIST IS HERE*** (Midtown)
which was welcome light relief. I always get a chuckle from the frustrations of those who use keyboard shouting to get heard on cl.
They punctuate V&RY L@*DLY ***** LIKE TH#S====++ AND CAPITALISE ALL THEIR SENTENCES, IN BOLD.
But the best bit is the (Midtown) bit. That's just a straightahead lie, to sound impressive and busy and scatter some shitkicking ballbreaking manhattan fairy dust over the proceedings. This guy is clearly living in Yonkers.Oh sometimes you just need a hug from a whippet. And then you get one from a whippet who is skilled and talented in this area, and you know it's all going to be fine. This whippet's ear skin is so thin, the sun shines through it. Her fur is very fine, too, like a threadbare rug, and her skin is pink with black spots underneath. And she likes hiding under the duvet, where it's warm and nice.
I was doing my customary Haagen Dazs fridge groove last night, where I stand before the impressive supermarket cabinet, filled floor to ceiling only with Haagen Dazs, and I'm focussing, making mental judgments:
Low fat, no.
English toffee, mm..
Triple chocolate, uh, triple chocolate.. oh... Just what kind of triple chocolate IS it, anyway?
And a kindly elderly black hep-cat reached over me and opened the cabinet door, taking out a bucket of rum-raisin manfully, without deliberation. He turned to me and said, in his hep-cat harlem accent, "I've got it too, sugar. Don't feel bad!" And I reached in and pulled out that tub of triple chocolate without further ado, and marched to the counter.
I'm whippet-sitting for the week.
God, it was such a gorgeous day today. It is definitely autumn, and though there are still a few valiant flip-floppers grooving around still, in their shorts, the time for the summer is past past past. The leaves are already crinkly and covering the ground.
I brought the ladies, as I call them, for a walk in the park and then up to my flat, and back home through the park. It's like walking around with a pair of supermodels, or mother teresa. They spread joy and happiness where e'er they go. Handsome men turn to smile fondly as they speed through the park on their high tech racing bikes; groups of 13 year old black children feel they can make contact. All sorts of people stop to marvel at the Amazing Whippets. Especially today, because they were out in their green sweatshirts, which make them look a bit like supermodels slumming it, or those incredibly rich old people you sometimes see wandering around the upper east side in their knickers with several nurses attending them. God save us from yes-men.
But with two sanguine whippets at hand, you get to talk to so many people you probably wouldn't otherwise. The funny thing is, most people say, knowingly, "Italian greyhounds, right?" with a little wink. They screw up their noses when they hear "Whippets, actually."
I've been through this drill so many times I should seriously consider making an application as some sort of tour guide to the International Whippet Association. People ask if they're friendly, as the ladies strain at the leash to get away. "Well, they're not really that bothered, as far as I can tell. They're not either friendly or unfriendly, most of the time. I think they usually don't notice other living things. Except squirrels. They are passionate about squirrels. They sort of do their own thing, you know?" I like to think I'm doing my bit for Global Whippet Consciousness Raising. Sometimes it Feels Good to Capitalise.
Overheard this evening, in the park:
Elderly Austro-German type, full white head of hair and full white beard, speaking in a thick Austrian accent, complete with the hugely enjoyable Germanic zz's. He's talking very quickly and very very enthusiastically to a delighted, giggling elderly lady.
Zo I vonder, what do zey vant viz me, vhen ze place eez zo full of zientists.. And zen I figured it out! I landed in August, and zix monthz later zey land on ze moon - ZAT is why zey vanted me! Of course!!
Some people you just want to make friends with on the spot. Even if just for a short while.
Tonight I am off to the great Entertainment Soup Kitchen that is Freddy's Backroom bar. This evening's sustainence is a comedy stew, with a light chat for afters.
Sunday 16 September 2007
It is amazing sometimes, the kind of rich soul-nourishment you can get from a cup of decent Irish tea and a sandwich of two easy single slices, on white toast, with butter, sometimes.
That's American cheese slices for the Americans, and the whole concept is just too difficult to translate for the Danes. It's the kind of comfort you get from a slice of rugbroed with leverpostej, I guess.
Of course, the cool thing is that you can get organic easy singles here. From a 24 hour supermarket a couple of blocks away.
It's a windy night, and the air is cold. Most of my clothes are summery so I've got to make a few visits to Beacon's Closet - a huge thrift store up in Billyburg and another branch down on the Slope - and have a look around for some warm stuff.
As I was walking along Flatbush tonight, I had some thoughts about being in new york on a saturday night and not feeling like rocking out, or travelling, but feeling like something human, and not having a lover, and not really having any friends here yet of the sort I could just call up and feel always welcome with. And not having a guitar. I suppose that's what I like about places like Freddy's. It's that kind of vibe, a regular spot, with friendly regulars. But even Freddy's gets busy on the weekend.
And that's just how it goes, you know? The rough with the smooth. That's just how it goes in new york city and anywhere else.
Hey, I saw an old interview of Tom Waits on Letterman, from 1984. Letterman asks him, "how would you describe new york?" And he says, "Well... it's like a big ship. (pauses) And the water's on fire."
Posted by owloo at 06:36
Those little patches of wild, scrubby ungentrified green weedy ground it is still possible to find in areas of Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Bed Stuy. Some are sizable, and fill the area of a brownstone that is no longer there, or a sports arena that would raze all indigenous life varieties in the area, to be replaced largely by a single bud-lite mega-variety.