Thinking of Moving To Brooklyn? Bibi Deitz Did–And Wrote About It!

Brooklyn

Note: The following is an essay I wrote three months ago, when I first moved back to Brooklyn. A month later, I signed a longterm lease in nearby Prospect Heights.

I just bought a bunch of bananas and, because I could, my favorite treat, a vegan, sugar-free chocolate pie at the bodega down the block. No need to find a health food store. Anyone who says New York is unfriendly and overwhelming has clearly never lived in Brooklyn.

I have. I do right now, as of a week ago, when I moved into a sublet for a month in Carroll Gardens; I also lived here as a kid for two years, in Windsor Terrace and the neighborhood that still goes by “Greenpoint,” but is now unrecognizable to its Nineties self. When we lived there, you had to push your sixty cents through bullet-proof glass to get a candy bar. I did walk the ten blocks to the train by myself at the age of twelve, but I was a street-smart kid. Also, my mother was going through a divorce.

Carroll Gardens is an entity unto itself. In the early mornings, parents and children walk in droves toward the schools; by ten p.m., all is quiet. Even most delis close by nine. It’s a neighborhood inhabited by families and professionals. There are no hipsters. They can’t afford the rent.

Neither can I, but I happened upon this place by chance: the golden fleece of sublets. It’s a four-bedroom apartment for $2,100 per month. You can do the math, but suffice it to say that I could be paying that solo if I lived down the street. That’s the thing about New York real estate: there’s magic to it. There is no one rule. If you believe in it, it will serve you. It’s like a whimsical, fey little deity who serves one and screws the next.

Call it magical thinking, but I do believe in the New York god of real estate. How could I not: I grew up in a loft on Avenue C and 4th Street that cost a grand per month. Even back then, it was a deal. We could’ve bought the place for a hundred thousand, but no one had the foresight back then to have any idea what the neighborhood would turn into, or the money with which to have such visions.

My sublet is a little room in the middle of the apartment, which is occupies the entire second floor of a small brick building. The floors are wide wood panels that creak and stretch underfoot. There is a small window and, next to my bed, I’ve put a vase of yellow roses, asters and daisies. My roommates are young professionals. I feel as though I’ve entered some sort of special ring of heaven.

It’s temporary, though, or it could be. This room belongs to a girl who may or may not be moving away indefinitely. My future is in her hands, or, actually, in the hands of the roommates at large. There’s talk of letting this room fall to empty, and just having three roommates, instead of four. I suppose I understand—less roommates, less hassle—but why would anyone want to throw away $525 rent in a prime Brooklyn locale? I know I sound like a broker, but this is just truth.

This state of being has the potential to be nerve-racking. Is she coming back? If not, will the Powers That Be let me stay? I weigh the potential consequences of every action. Should I cook chicken at ten p.m.? Should I use the wide wood table in the kitchen for a writing desk in the afternoons? Should I take a bath? The answer, thus far, always turns out to be yes. I was hungry, and the kitchen has incredible natural light, and taking a bath is always the right thing to do.

In other words, I weigh the consequences of every action, but mostly I do as I please. While I am on a month-long audition of sorts, I cannot withhold my needs for thirty days in hopes of being inducted. If this place doesn’t work out, I’d certainly be pissed about missing out on all of those baths.

Meanwhile, I learn the neighborhood. The church on the corner is famous, an old Catholic spire-y number with white-washed stone and Corinthian columns. There’s a vintage store on Court that just reopened, and, though I peeked my head in on the way home the other day, I was starving and had to leave immediately. This is a good thing, because it’s overflowing with things like high-waisted Pucci swim bottoms (no top, of course) and they’re all outrageously expensive. I found the nearby bodegas, hardware store and laundromat. There’s a park a few blocks down Clinton. And the subway is a seven-minute walk.

I want to call this home, hang a shingle, set down roots: whatever it is that one does when one commits to a neighborhood. I wouldn’t know: for the past few years, I’ve been in state of “we’ll see.” “We’ll see,” I said to my then-boyfriend when we moved into our first place together five years ago. “We’ll see,” I told the man who’d then become my fiancé when we found our next place, two years later. And we saw: we broke up, which I always suspected we would do, and I finally got to return to New York, which is what I secretly and not-so-secretly wanted to do for most of our relationship.

I loved him. But I love New York in a different way.

He and I were not a good match, and New York and I are soul mates. Of all the places I’ve lived, the city always feels right. It’s the oversized cashmere sweater of cities.

This is not to say that it’s always comfortable. Sometimes, when it’s pouring rain and freezing, it feels more like a damp, dirty sweater that someone has been sleeping in for a week. But it’s still cashmere. There are always moments of grace: the old woman who asks if I can tie her shoe for her, the little girl on the street who tells me I am beautiful. Moments of serendipity: the F train doors close in my face only to reopen, as if charmed, a second later. Moments of synchronicity: I walk out with my friend to get a taxi for her a few nights ago, since she doesn’t know Carroll Gardens; the cabbie we find is pulled over, eating dinner, but he agrees to take her back to Crown Heights and, once there, I hear that he drops her on a desolate corner where a girl with three suitcases was waiting patiently and somewhat insanely for a cab to come along. That’s New York: you just have to trust that it will provide.

Because it always does. Always, unfailingly, indefatigably, the city provides just what you need at the right time.

It might not always be on your timetable. But it is always the right time.

The other night, the friend who took the taxi back to Crown Heights and I discussed how transportation in the city serves as a vehicle for synchrony. When you’re in “the flow”—trusting, being patient, practicing kindness and compassion—it seems as though the trains play along. I’ve had plenty of opportunities lately to give this theory a whirl, since living in Brooklyn is synonymous with subway usage, unless you’re Michelle Williams. Even she’d probably like to take the train sometimes, and maybe she does: it’s by far the fastest way to Manhattan if there’s any traffic.

Perhaps my friend and I are crazy. But I swear: if I’m anxious, stressed-out and angry, I miss the train. I get on the wrong one. I get on the right one going the wrong way. If all is calm, though, the trains run smoothly: they arrive just as I hit the platform, they time themselves well for optimal transfers, they speed up between stations to deliver me on-time to my destination.

Maybe that’s just the city and her whims.

Brooklyn has a way of making everything easier. It’s quieter, cleaner, friendlier than Manhattan. It doesn’t have the same glitz and glow, but instead has its own spin: the glitz is made of artisanal, hand-painted sea glass from Coney Island and the glow is soft, natural light at sunset, gloaming.

I’ll take it. It’s not about the rent, or the hardwood floors, or the bathtub—although all of these help—it’s about the peace of mind. I can wander the neighborhood late at night with a mug of tea in hand. I can open the door to the back yard and eat the bodega banana on the patio in the morning. I can lie in bed and listen to dogs bark up and down the street, sentinels. It’s like living in a small town, and also living in the big city. It’s both ways, which is the best way of all.

Lithic: Poem and Photographs by Miriam Sagan

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Lithic

stone wood

I come across a barn in the field
the sculptor
is building the tenth version
of shale and stump
all the rest have collapsed…

it is all about the balance

wood can petrify but stone cannot grow

boulder pulverized to pebble

schist colored with ferric oxide
and floating bones with teeth
fossilized

new mountains from old rock
domed
dolmen
cirques and horns

like gravestone
or what can be
quarried
from the glacial erratic

shale that breaks along parallel points, fissility
composed of mud, quartz, calcite

a covered bridge
a caul, a veil, purdah

a pocketless shroud
without knots
or buttons

how death is public, a final
resting place
Puritans with their unadorned
death heads
a burying ground
not next to any church

a cairn can mark a trail

record a visit
to memorialize a spot

this earth is metamorphic
for what is not?

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Poem inspired by the gallery show GROWTH UNDER PRESSURE, Salem Art Works, NY July, 2014.

Haibun by Angelee Deodhar

Angelee Deodhar, India

The Host
 
A sun filled deck, a tomato plant with two ripe red tomatoes, artifacts in stone, wood, wire masks, books and the medley of colors is offset by a carpet the shade of sand. This family is mine for the duration of the conference and I am free to  roam among tree shaded lupines, and hostas, write, read in this temporary home. But  then aren’t all our homes temporary?
                                                        
                                                      summer clouds
                                                      a tortoise shell cat fills
                                                    the morning with purrs
   
My family takes me out to dinner, we get our food served with sauces designed like a Modigliani painting. The talk turns to ghosts and then to writing from different cultures. Their son Keenan,a teenager, reads his poems and later his father tries his hand at haiku. We swing back in time and in their eyes I can see compassion strong enough for them to take in a total stranger from halfway across the world.
                                                           
                                                            on beige walls
                                                           ancient African masks
                                                             the color of his skin     

The Totem Animal of The Adirondacks Seems To Be…The Chair

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Giant

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Artsy

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Doll Sized

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Big and Small

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Average

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Tiny

Chittenango Falls: poem by Miriam Sagan

I had the pleasure of re-visiting the falls today, and thought to post a poem I wrote about them, published in SEVEN PLACES IN AMERICA:

Chittenango Falls

Back in the Devonian, minus 400 million
When we weren’t here

Nor was this continent
That later would house upstate New York

Pangaea floated at the equator
Flooded with warm shallow seas

Went north, all shale and limestone
Sedimentation full of coral, sponge, and mollusk fossils

Met a glacier
In years measured only in thousands

A timeline that might mean something to us
When there were already people and dogs

As there are today in the park
By Chittenango Falls

Where so much water, pure white and powerful
Hurtles and cascades down

A glacial division of the stream
Through the gorge

So green this summer afternoon
Our own small portion of the sublime.

Knit Bombing, Cambridge, NY

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Weird Summer by Devon Miller-Duggan–conclusion

The past three years have involved three heavy hits (a job that dissolved in weirdly nasty ways, the death of a god son, my mother’s illnesses and increasingly rapid descent/disappearance/dissolution into dementia). But they’ve also been years full of particularly wonderful stuff with my daughters and grandkids, the publication of a chapbook, and a deepening awareness of the long list of wealths I have to bring to my walking through these years—a remarkable, if slightly imperfect husband; two fascinating and loving grandkids who live very close by; the parents of those grandkids, whose marriage is a wonderful thing to watch unfold and bloom; another daughter who’s found a really good guy who makes her glow; students who give me more than I could ever give them; enough money to help with my mother (and, as I write this, to pay the three guys wrestling with the ivy that ate my yard while I was dealing with other things…); a network of remarkable friends and other writers; a strong faith community (though, if I don’t dial back on the stuff I do at/for church, the aforementioned daughters may take a shovel to the side of my head…). I could go on, but you get the gist—this is a privileged life. That never means that anyone is defended from suffering, of course, but it certainly helps to be able to go out for crabcakes on the spur of the moment and to have (bless its mechanical heart) functioning air conditioning.

Obviously, because I’m not teaching for these months, I’m left spending way too much time either worrying about Stuff That Needs To Get Done (someday my bedroom will get painted…), procrastinating (my one true genius), or wallowing/thinking. I do get some things figured out, a bit. And maybe it’s a good thing that this year I’m taking more naps and just zoning-out rather than frantically pushing myself to makemakemake. Turning 60 was/is a big deal, and it deserved at least some of the existential crisis it birthed. I suppose I’ve learned a fair amount about myself in the past three years—always a good thing, yes? Lots of buried crap about my relationship with my mother (if the Truth will set us free, I ought to be able to levitate by now…), my own relationship to creativity and life and faith and doggedness. Maybe a little patience with myself.

But what has struck me forcibly is that, at least for me, life is not generally a matter of feeling 50/50 or 60/40 or any other mathematically sensible set of emotions/emotional conflicts. It’s very often, maybe even mostly a matter of 100/100. I 100% never wanted to have any relationship with Pretty Good U after I got ground up in an institutional clustermuck, and 100% cannot conceive of not teaching. I 100% loathe my adjunct-ness and 100% adore my students. I 100% want my mother’s increasingly fragile and narrowed life to end and 100% do not want her to die. I 100% rejoice in making things, and 100% have nothing calling me to do so. I am 100% extroverted and 110% introverted, 100% bossy/dynamic/rebellious and 100% passive/goodgirl/compliant. 100% obsessed with my looks and 90% whogivesashit. And so forth and so on.

I conclude that I am a failure at The Dialectical. I conclude that I am (and am not particularly special in this) maybe pretty decent at The Paradoxical, The Oxymoronic, The I-Don’t-Really-Know-A-Word-For-It. Whatever it is, it isn’t balance, that’s for damn sure. It’s mostly like eating firecrackers for every meal and waiting for them to explode. I don’t think all of us are this way. I actually know a number of people who manage (some) balance, (some) equilibrium, (some) conversations with themselves and/or God that do not consist of nothing but shouting. I am pretty close to deciding that I just am this way and need to figure out how to make it work for me for however many decades of functioning brain I have left. I think enough humans share this trait for me to call it a kind of normalcy. Some of us are moderate by nature, or at least moderation-seeking, some of us not so much.

But it does make me feel like I’m caught in summer all the time—living in a cool house surrounded by thick, slimy, choking air. That the inside is not really safe because, even though it’s cool, it’s also a kind of prison. That the outside, even though it’s where the light and the alive things and connectedness are, is a deathly threat.

A little melodrama, anyone? 100%? A little normal, anyone? 100%?

As near as I can figure, it amounts to being 100% good for creativity and 100% choking. Which, I’m thinking, explains why this particular summer is maybe more discombobulated, clarifying, and cranky-making than usual.

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