As you may have heard recently, an art installation was recently, um, installed in New York that put 60 pianos on the streets for people to play. There's one in City Hall Park, near my office, and as I was walking to the train yesterday after a truly awful day, I stopped and watched a couple people play. One of my favorite things ever (I need to add it to the list) is when people surprise me. Like when super conservative people are sexual deviants. Or, you know, when Wall Street guys in suits sit down and play some Brahms on their way home from Deutsche Bank. Apples, oranges.
After he finished playing, the guy who had played right before him and his friend geeked out and asked the pianist if it was a Brahms piece, and he said yes and told them which one it was. I couldn't hear him, but it reminded me of one of my favorite pieces of music ever, Brahms' Requiem, Op. 45. I remember we played this in my high school symphonic band and I was always in love with it. It's nine minutes long. Do your soul a favor and crank your speakers up.
Sometimes, art exists to make us feel small and big at the same time.
Lately, I've been missing the South. Like never before since I moved to the city, I miss it. It's a movie playing in my head, pausing more than it moves forward, a series of images of things I equate with the South. One moment, I see my foot on the dash, wind blowing through my hair, music cranked up, watching a lightening storm as the sun goes down in the distance. A little later, I see blackness as I wake up in the middle of the night to a loud crack of thunder. God, I miss thunder and lightening and storms more than anything. It doesn't storm up here. It rains for short amounts of time, and even then it sounds so different because it's pitter-pattering on my AC in the window, not on my roof. And thunder in the distance just doesn't exist in New York. I crave that.
Then it's something vague, like a grassy hill. Or those hills in Mississippi, on the drive from Birmingham to Oxford, that rise and fall against the blunt flatness of the Delta to the south. I remember driving that route on the prettiest days the universe ever threw together, and thinking, even then - when I absolutely took it for granted - how the sky seemed to stretch on forever and the clouds were the happy residents of that infinity. The grass stalks on the sides of the highway were tall, and depending on the time of year, they were green or yellow or brown, sometimes all three. But they were always there, and they seemed to constantly sway in the wind, all the blades moving together in one swooping motion, as if they were waving at me along my journey.
It's odd, because I'm not sad in New York. Maybe I just haven't gotten to that point yet, but I oddly feel sort of comforted by my ardent longing for the South. Maybe because it comes from somewhere outside of myself - or at least that's my inclination, since I'm certainly not forcing myself to feel this way - I think each missin' pang brings me closer to where I need to be and what I need to do. As if the script to that movie in my head isn't completed, but is actively being written. The plot is revealed to me in flashes, and the ending doesn't even exist yet.
Remember when I told y'all I'm reading North Toward Home by Willie Morris? Well the same day I started reading it, I noticed a note on the last page, written by one of the previous owners. When I tried to read it, I couldn't decipher the handwriting, which might be referred to as "chicken scratch," and looks like it could have been written by my mom or her mama or her momma before. Then I sort of forgot about it. Yesterday, I looked at it again and it was perfectly clear to me.
I finished! Great day in the morning I finished 1/22/88 betw Boca & Atlanta You come back now you hear!
My birthday is 1/21/86. I was two years and two days old when this person finished the book and felt compelled to make a note of it. Also, no one above the Mason-Dixon line says "great day in the morning." Ever. AND, don't people normally say "y'all come back now ya hear"? This person, for some reason, replaced the "y'all" with "you." And 22 years later, I read it at a particularly vulnerable time, when I miss the South and home with every part of myself. Art - and therefore life - is a complete mindfuck sometimes.
When I read it on the train yesterday, I started laugh-crying. I'm sure I looked insane. But it's just like, OK, universe - after the message this book already gave me when I was sitting in the window of the salon in Chelsea, I can't ignore it.
I'm coming home. I don't know when. I don't even know where or why or how, but I just feel the truth of that statement, without even understanding it.
Update: Authorities are reporting that a boat captain in charge of helping clean up the oil spill at Gulf Shores has shot and killed himself. The scope of this tragedy, and the depth of the sadness and desperation it has induced in the people who thrive on the waters of the Gulf, cannot be expressed in words. I tried, but my words don't even come close. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone on the coast. All the way from New York, my heart is constantly in the South.
A few weeks ago, I was riding the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan when I discovered those first photos of birds covered in oil on someone's Twitter. Until that moment, the oil spill had just seemed sort of unreal to me, and then suddenly it hit me, all at once, and I started crying. The whole ride home, I was either crying or stewing in outrage, feeling smaller and smaller by the second, unsure of what I could possibly do - if anything - to counteract the largest human error yet seen in my lifetime.
Anti-BP graffiti near my apartment in East Harlem
So I did the only thing I know how when I'm seriously impacted by something. I wrote about it. I wrote a really long, really angry poem, and I went home and for several nights recorded myself reading it, in various states of undress and makeup and lighting and all kinds of crazy things. I ended up not being happy with the results, because what I had written - while raw and very true to how I felt in those moments - was not something I wanted to publicly and permanently attach my name to. It was too violent and hateful.
So I re-wrote it, trying really hard to focus my sadness and anger into a different channel, where I re-visited my childhood memories of the Gulf and tried to express as best I could how the people on the coast must feel right now. Even though I don't live down there, a big part of me does, because a lot of my fondest memories growing up center on that culture. It breaks my heart to know that it has been treated so haphazardly.
Anyway, I wrote an essay and recorded myself reading it. Below, the full text of the essay and my recording. This also marks the first time I've put my actual voice on my blog (aside from various videos I've posted). Please read and/or listen, and don't forget you have a voice too. Please donate if you can, or simply raise your voice however you feel comfortable.
Love and art, always.
When I Was Little
When I was little, I made a new friend at the beach. I remember it like it happened yesterday. I was wearing a teal green two-piece bathing suit, with little bows on the back of the top, and little bows on the bottoms. My long brown hair was wet, hanging down to the middle of my back, and my bangs bounced on my forehead as I ran, my feet slapping the wet brick around the edge of the pool.
Sunlight bounced off the water and hit my teeth, reflecting blindly as I laughed and jumped into the pool with my new friend. She was skinny, and much tanner than me. I could never tan, and I still can’t, but the freckles tried desperately to make up for my lack of melatonin, stretching their faces to the sky, which was as blue as the ocean, and reached forever and ever and seemingly ever into the future.
She was skinny, and she wore a tie-dyed one piece. She had long blonde hair. I don’t remember her name. We grasped hands and played games around the pool. We invented worlds on the edge of the water, worlds with rules but without regulations, worlds with no night, only day. No rain, only sunlight. No money, only play. Even now, as I think of her, I can feel the sand coating my thighs, stubbornly clinging, unaffected by chlorine stains.
When I was little, we always went to the beach in the mornings. Always, always, I would wake up and my parents would be brewing coffee, and a fresh box of doughnuts would sit on the counter, open and waiting for me. The house would smell of coffee and sugar glaze and saltwater, and when I woke up the first thing I heard was the waves crashing against the shore. I can smell it now. I can hear it.
We would walk down to the beach, and I would dutifully remove my flip-flops, as I had watched my mother do so many times before. And I would tread carefully on the sand, feeling my calves clench up in resistance, releasing their tension once I arrived at the water’s edge. My toes reached and grasped at the waves, urging me forward. I would always go in, maybe up to my waist, but I was afraid to go any farther. My mom almost drowned when she was little, so my fear is ingrained in my double helices. But the fear just made me love it more, pushed me toward it more insistently, made the splash of my legs cutting through the blue echo more loudly against the coastline.
My parents and I would always make sandwiches for lunch. We sat out on our balcony and ate them while we played card games or backgammon. The balcony over the beach was a safe zone; I have only happy memories of that space – laughing, feet curled up under knees, bellies full of bologna and potato chips, sun-kissed skin straining against plastic railing, the constant whoosh of the waves hitting the shore. That was my childhood.
When I wasn’t so little anymore, I remember going to the beach by myself one night. I sat in the sand, on the very edge of the water. I remember thinking I had never seen anything so black in my entire life. So black, and vast, and empty, and full, all at the same time. I remember thinking I had no idea what I was actually looking at, and wondering if there was someone on the other side of the water, looking back at me. I remember wondering if I tossed a bottle into the ocean, first writing a letter and tucking it inside, if it would ever reach someone, anyone, and if that person would write me back. I remember thinking how everything was actually connected, how any sense of separation was just a human invention, and how the ocean was proof of this.
Now, I’m all grown-up. I live in New York City, and I haven’t seen the Gulf for more than two years. And now, I know I’ll never see it again. I will go down, I will visit, but the waters of my childhood are gone forever. Even as I write it, I deny it. I tell myself I’m just being dramatic, that I should just stop writing right now, because the oil spill’s not that bad after all, and it will be resolved soon, and will be nothing more than a black shadow of a memory, a former version of a slick we almost forgot.
But the truth is that, probably, it is that bad. The thing about oil is that we don’t know how much of it there is, because the universe buried it underneath miles and miles of dirt and sand and earth, and we can’t see where it ends. We found it, and claimed it as ours, but, as usual, we know only the beginning. In the meantime we just see people and animals, stuck in a frozen flail, suspended in space by oil.
To the people at British Petroleum, and across the entire oil industry, who have been charged with repairing this tragedy, know that you cannot. All the money in the world is useless. Nature doesn’t accept our currencies. You cannot repair it, but you can work to stop it. And you have to.
Get off your yacht, Tony Hayward. Of course I don’t believe that you can fix this horror show, and I don’t even believe that you care to, but at least you should pretend.
Just imagine, now, if I dropped a bottle into the Gulf. It wouldn’t go very far. It might float out just a few miles before it got trapped in the sludge. And inside, a letter that would never be read. A letter that says, “Hi, my friend from the pool. I don’t know if you remember me from all those years ago. I was wearing teal green. I can’t remember your name, but I am glad we made friends. I hope you get this letter. Love, Meghan.”
I'm working on a website of my very own, with the help of the multi-talented Zachary, and will obviously post a link to it here when it's up and running.
I'm coming to Oxford for the first time in more than a year in August. EXCITED. I'll be in town for two nights for a friend's wedding. People younger than me are getting married. Crazeballs.
I'm learning how to play guitar. I enrolled at New York City Guitar School and it is AWESOME. It's such a chill environment, and everyone is super friendly. My teacher marched drum corps back in the day - and so did I NERD ALERT - so we geeked out over that.
I wrote a short film and spent the entire weekend filming it with a stupidly talented group of people. I am so so so excited about it.
I envy pretty girls
with pretty skin
and sunglasses on their noses;
I used to be one of them,
carefree and laughing,
then life happened,
New York happened:
Dear friend Hannah inspired me with her latest post, which made me realize I hadn't talked to my city in a while. So I sat down and talked to her. Here's how the conversation went.
Oh, hi New York. Hi. It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? I mean, I’ve been here, and you’ve certainly been there, but I feel like we haven’t really talked in a while. The tolls are so high. The tolls are just so fucking high. If you google “toll-free, antonym,” I swear to God “New York” should be the first search result.
I know this. I know this because last weekend I left. I rented a car with two friends and drove to Asbury Park, New Jersey. I know, what the fuck, right? It was for love. Not for, like, “love” love, like I’m going to marry this person love or anything crazy. Nah. But some kind of love. There are lots, you know? Love is the color wheel on the Wheel of Fortune, just more or less annoying, depending on how you feel about Wheel of Fortune. There are, like, 100 varieties, but an infinite number of possible combinations. It can be fun.
Anyway, I drove to Jersey. Actually I didn’t drive. I was drunk. My friend drove. We went down on the FDR, fingered the island on Houston Street, then finally finally fucked the Holland Tunnel to get out. It was good. It was really fucking good. It was cool to be in a car in the city, watching all the drones walk around me. I felt rich, except I know I’m not. I felt like a prince on an elephant in the middle of the dessert, except I know I’m not.
Once we were out, we encountered like a thousand toll stops. Seriously, every 15 to 20 minutes there would be another toll. Why you gotta be like that, New York? Northeast? In the South, there are no tolls. Period. There miiiiiiight be a toll on the bridge to Dauphin Island off the coast of Alabama, but I can’t really remember. Soon it won’t matter anyway because the whole thing will be covered in oil, ugh. But that could be kind of cool, I guess, because it will basically be a huge slip and slide. And who doesn’t love those from their childhood? Weeeeeeeeee!
Toll. Drive. Toll. Drive. On the way back too, driving at 1, 2, 3 in the morning, tolls. Why are you so hard to penetrate, New York? It’s hard to get in, and it’s hard to get the fuck out. Why do you separate yourself like that? I mean, I get it. You’re “New York.” You’re “Manhattan.” You feel threatened, you gotta protect yourself, you feel like people owe it to you to pay obscene amounts just to cross your borders. It’s probably Sex and the City’s fault. Name off all the things you dislike about yourself, dear city, and I promise you I can trace their source back to that fucking show. But whatever. What’s done is done, and it’s a good fucking show anyway.
The tolls are confusing too. It’s not like it’s straightforward, you know? It’s not like “drive here if you have cash, drive here if you have a credit card, drive here if you have that E-Z-Pass shit.” I mean, technically, yeah, that’s how it’s set up, but all the highways in New Jersey I swear to God are like 25 lanes. So cars and trucks and hippie minivans are swerving all over the place, and then there’s us, and we don’t know where we are or where we’re going, we just know we have to pay to get there.
What? Don’t be a smartass. Of course it’s appropriate. Huh? Oh yeah, of course I know I’m using a hackneyed symbol for the crisis of the American youth. I don’t really need you to tell me that. And I really don't need you to tell me not to use the word hackneyed because it's hackneyed! But you know what? There’s nothing new under the sun, New York. Besides, what are you doing that’s new? What shit are you making? I had a dream last night that I got a tattoo of a turtle on my arm and he was wearing a CBGB T-shirt. Fuck you.
Oh, shit, I guess it is time for your monthly bath. Already? Goddamn. I feel like you just had one. OK, I’ll let you go. I’m not mad at you. Actually I’m quite content with you. It worries me. I’ve never been content with you before. Did I change, or have you changed? You look so different to me now, compared to just a few months ago. I should probably be more pissed than ever at you, but somehow I’m not. I’m just like, it’s OK. A cool stream of “it’s OK”s keeps swimming over me as I dunk my head under the brim of summer. I just sit on my bed and strum my guitar and those six strings vibrate with how little I know, and the sound bounces off the walls of my lonely little room, but it’s comforting, you know? I’m just like, it’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. Splash.
Well, I mean, I feel OK, which is what makes me worry and feel not OK. Like a gnawing in the back of my mind, like my old self jumping up and down saying, ‘Remember when you used to be unhappy!? You were so much cooler and more artsy then!’ I guess that’s one thing: New York, you’re the only place in the world where contentment raises blood pressures. Systolic over diastolic, steady climbin', like a bridge over a tugboat where there’s probably a goddamn toll.
Today I interviewed Dave 1 from the band Chromeo. I was really nervous because I'm kind of obsessed with Chromeo right now and sort of have a big ol' crush on Dave. I texted Schmom B. to tell her as much. This is what she had to say in response.
I have always
lived my life on the edge
of this huge precipice that I can't see,
and hoping desperately
to topple in.
I fall in love
as easy and natural as
syrup pours lucid over
I know nothing about you, but somehow I will never forget you.
I know your name.
I know where you're from.
I know that you have two siblings,
but I could never pluck them from a lineup.
I know your favorite television shows.
I know your favorite author.
I know your telephone number,
ten digits mocking me from the high seas,
dipping below the white wave crests, into the blackness and emerging again,
drenched and cold and probably broken.
I know the way you felt under my hands,
how blue your eyes glowed against the frame of your smile,
and the sound of your hmmmmm when you saw me
sweetly shudder across your fingertips;
then the way your lips felt as they
and your short hair as I grazed it with my starved hands -
like mindless cattle in a field who don't know any better
than to just keep
People are so strong.
People are so strong,
I have never grasped it,
how people's hearts pump stubbornly through so much sickness and isolation and undoing.
But you brought me a step closer to understanding,
just a small little baby step,
to keep on
against the current.
What a joy to look ahead to read into the signs of your future. So much happiness is in store for you that the most brillantly lighted stars will be put to shame by the brightness of your life. Ah, this is not all caused by sheer good luck. Nay, nay my friend, your perseverance, your clever ways of handling your domestic problems and your sincerity in dealing with others are pointing the way to their reward. Some strangers will urge you to get involved in a gambling proposition. Avoid this, and you will be forever grateful. "Oh, happiness, what an elusive thing you are. But thank God you were born beneath its star."