Escape from Manhattan (How to Have a Good Weekend)

The thing about working “on the Internet” is that it becomes almost impossible to ever STOP working. Signing on to write on this blog entry, I find myself drifting to the social accounts I manage for work – it’s muscle memory at this point to visit the homepage, shift to Facebook, to Twitter, to analytics software – to the same behemoths of data that dominate my paid hours. Before I had even begun to pen this post, I was an hour into working on things for my other job, and I hadn’t even shifted from my position on my bed.

Of course, the alternate side to this is that when you end up in a location that lacks any Internet connection it becomes virtually impossible to do your job. This is the situation I found myself in over the weekend. Faced with a rare four consecutive days off (in honor of Independence day), myself and the cadre of college friends with whom I share New York City packed our bags and headed east. I traded Proust for Fitzgerald this weekend, opting for the Anglo American savoir faire of the Hamptons (which, for the uninitiated, is the bastion of East Coast wealth upon which The Great Gatsby is based).

New York City is remarkable for many reasons, but one of them is that it takes so little time and such insignificant geographic distance to move from its unique urban sprawl to a different universe. Two hours north of the city you can find the sleepy towns of the Hudson. Two hours northwest is an impoverished town in the foothill of the Catskill mountains. And two hours east lie gorgeous beaches peppered with landing pads for private jets. So after a brief drive (made even shorter by our shared excitement to be away from our jobs and from the humidity of New York in July), my four friends and I were at our destination. Proust has a choice phrase about the behavior of time in different settings:

“The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains.”

We found a cheap motel outside of Southampton (made cheaper by our lie to the owners that we were a party of three, not five) and loaded up the trunk of my friend’s car with the sugary kind of alcohol that should not be consumed away from a beach. We ate out for dinner and I swallowed my panic as my bank account balance shrank every day. I lay in the sun upon the sand for the first time in what I realized was two years – but not before I had paid the price for my forgetfulness with a sunburn that debilitated me for 24 hours of the trip.

It was the shock of my sunburn that jolted me towards the realization that these four days were the first vacation I’d had in months. The last time I had gone this long without working was my family reunion in Vermont, almost exactly a year before. That trip was potent with nostalgia, with the strange sense of deja vu that permeates familial reactions, the awkward comfort of seeing your nose resting on a near-stranger’s face. This trip was in many ways a mirror image of that last urban exodus: a journey east of New York instead of north of Washington; a beach made of sand, not rocks; days spent with the family I’ve found, not the one I was born with.

The trip was not without nostalgia: for past summers at the beach with childhood friends; for the drives at college where my roommate and I wound through cow pastures on our way to nowhere, discussing our anxieties over upcoming tests and the ways in which our hearts had broken and mended. But memories follow us wherever we go (as Proust would be the first to point out). This trip didn’t feel like a visit to the past, rather, it was a serene four days where I truly disconnected and, in taking stock of my life from afar, got the distinct impression that it was moving forward. The four days felt even longer, not from tedium, but from, as Proust puts it, the expansion of my passions that stretched the elastic fabric of time. I came back to New York with peeling skin and sand in my hair, but, upon reconnecting, find that this interlude carried a latent sense of propulsion. Maybe enough momentum to finish these damn books – and write on this blog more than once every five months.

Postscript: Rather than begin this post with my apologies for the long delay in my posting, I decided to begin with a normal Proust Book Club post. I will say here: if you’re still reading, thank you. Thank you Maeve for your gentle reminders and for keeping this domain warm while I sorted out my life and felt overwhelmed by the prospect of being alone with my emotions and my words. Once I have resumed the swing of things, I will explain my absence… or perhaps I’ll just use Proust’s words instead of my own, as they once again seem more apt:

“Had I been less firmly resolved upon settling down definitively to work, I should perhaps have made an effort to begin at once.”

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I’m feeling 22 (I don’t know about you)

I would start out this post by apologizing for the delay in Prousting, but with a slew of job applications, visiting friends, and general late-winter apathy, I have been neglecting my blog duties and feel I should not be ashamed of putting life first. I have to thank Nora for her last post, for having the guts to write honestly and with the raw truth that I am sometimes afraid to articulate in writing. Sometimes there is so much chaos and uncertainty and disappointment in life that I do not have the heart to put it into art as well; sometimes there are those days that go by in a haze of clouds and tea and endless cover letters, and it is such a relief to laugh with friends, drink a glass of wine, and write about the reasons to go on. But great writing, I suppose, is not afraid to face the darkness. Great writing manages to bring in the good with the bad, to show beauty along with sorrow, to ride the emotional roller coaster of life (or even a single day), to speak those things we keep to ourselves.

photo 1 (2)Last Friday, Nora and I took a field trip to the Morgan Library in Midtown, our favorite museum, where we saw the installation “Marcel Proust and Swann’s Way: 100th Anniversary” on the day it opened. The small but full room contains case upon case of Proust’s handwritten letters and manuscript drafts, on loan from the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. A celebration of the 100th anniversary of Swann’s Way, it seemed the perfect way to celebrate this project, and an excuse to meet up. We walked among the papers of a man who seems to have become a character in our own lives, reading the inserts and substitutions, the letters he wrote to friends, trying to describe his endeavor. The famous first line of the novel, “For a long time I used to go to bed early,” had been inserted in place of a long, scratched-out paragraph. Entire scene progressions and volume names had changed; Proust’s narrative of a man grieving for his lost mother (something the author himself went through at the time) became something far more lyrical, far more complex.

We walked out of the museum and down Madison Avenue, all the way from 35th to 4th street, where we walked across Washington Square Park, got $3 felafel, and ate it on the steps of a Village brownstone. We talked about our lives, work, change. Nothing right now is certain: soon we will (hopefully, in my case!) have new jobs, Nora a new apartment, Nick and Sam, my very best friends, are moving to the other side of Manhattan, and I will miss their close proximity terribly. Soon it will be spring, and the sun will come back. I am learning, painfully but steadily, that change is not always a bad thing. I hate growing up, I told her. Just when you think you’re done, it’s like you have so much further to go. She walked me down to Houston, and we hugged goodbye.

photo 2 (1)Here’s the thing about this period in your life, which everyone seems to know but no one is wiling to say: sometimes it really sucks. Sometimes it is the greatest time of your life, full of possibility and independence, and random sing-along nineties dance parties, and walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. And sometimes it feels almost impossible, like nothing is certain and the future is still so very far away. So here, finally, is my attempt at raw truth. There are days when I find myself clutching at straws, filling out application after application in a seemingly endless, dogged pursuit of that one thing I have wanted since the age of twelve: life as a writer. Some days I get up at 8:30, make tea, and write eight cover letters by sunset; others I languish in bed, watching Downton Abbey and chatting with friends until ten.

Last Wednesday, emotionally exhausted, physically spent, and with a headache that came from not enough sleep and too much chardonnay the night before, I lay staring at my ceiling, teary-eyed, wondering how on earth I am going to manage to get my life to the place where I want it to be. In a sudden, childish impulse, I crawled under my covers and curled up, staring at the down of my comforter, yellow with morning light. I wish I could just stay here, I thought, in a moment of uncharacteristic angst. I wish I could just stay here and never have to get a job, not have to socialize or go on dates or grow up. I allowed myself to wallow for several long minutes. Then I flung off my covers, turned on Taylor Swift’s “22.”

We’re happy free confused and lonely at the same time
It’s miserable and magical oh yeah

As Taylor sang, I danced around my room, face still tearstained as I made my bed and fluffed my pillows, crying and laughing until I collapsed spread-eagled onto my bed, smiling in spite of myself. There is nothing that so perfectly embodies this feeling of inherent contradictions like a red-headed country singer, and all of the sudden I felt better again.

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22
Everything will be alright if you keep me next to you
You don’t know about me but I bet you want to
Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22

I am twenty-three now, but I am sure this song will ring true for a while yet. For once, I’m not going to go for some witty summation, some ending that is both poignant and funny. Being this age is hard and wonderful and takes constant adaptation and a wry sense of humor. I do not know what to tell you, my beloved readers, do not know how to make this uncertainty better except to grow with it.

And I do not know how to live, except to laugh with the people I love, to get up early, and to just keep dancing.


photo 2 (5)