“And New York is the most beautiful city in the world? It is not far from it. No urban night is like the night there… Squares after squares of flame, set up and cut into the aether. Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.” ~ Ezra Pound.
Twenty-nine years ago this summer, I left my family in the Pacific Northwest and set out for New York City. I took the train across Canada (because it was significantly cheaper for a berth in Canada than it was for a seat in the U.S., and I wanted to get some sleep on the three-day journey.) I was 23. I’d been accepted into the School of Music at NYU and I planned (at that point) to get my degree and become a rock star. I had no preference about the order of those things.
I arrived in the city (where I had never been before) at about 7 PM on July 19, 1983. As the train followed the Hudson river toward the city, I was anxious. Once we hit the outskirts of Harlem, I watched in a sort of sad state of both wonder and fear. The train dipped underground soon after and all I could see was darkness and the occasional signal light. We slowed and pulled into Grand Central Station. When I got off of the train, carrying (I admit it) a teddy bear and my suitcase, the enormity of what I had chosen for myself hit me. The platform was sweltering and damp. I dragged my belongings up to the main level and looked up. The whole ceiling was covered with the signs of the zodiac. Aries — my sign — twinkled above. I have always been the type of person who leaps first. I don’t think about the consequences when I embark on a challenge. I just charge ahead.
And I suppose most of the wonder and joy that I have encountered in my life would not have happened, if I wasn’t that sort of person. Certainly, I experienced my share of terror as a result of my attitude; however, I also stretched myself beyond what I thought was possible — again and again and again.
New York was that sort of challenge. I lived in the city for 8 years. I finished my undergrad degree there. I played gigs and did music for an off-Broadway show, converted to Buddhism (and convinced my mother and my brother to do the same), and auditioned for bit parts and bands. I lived in Greenwich Village and often saw luminaries like Dave Stewart (“Sweet dreams are made of this…”) eating in the coffee shop near my apartment. (The Waverly, if you are interested.) I passed Diane Keaton on the street. I saw all sorts of people and met all sorts of people. I told Andy Warhol about Buddhism while prowling the streets of the Village. I visited museums and drank lattes and saw films and took taxis. I met people who are still woven into the warp and weave of my life. New York is not an easy place to live — especially when you are doing it on $5K per year — like I was in those days. But, I found my way, and I grew up. New York — the lovely, dark, mysterious, dangerous, titillating, captivating city that she is — was a great teacher.
It is a place I consider the birthplace of all of the threads and filaments that led to the life I now have.
So, today, I will retrace my steps back to Manhattan for the first time in ten years. A lot has changed during that time. I have certainly changed. My teaching career started after my last visit. My father died. I moved to Arizona. So many things have entered my life or fallen away.
In a couple of hours I will board the Empire Line on Amtrak at the station here in Albany, NY. I will watch the Hudson River dance with eddies pooling with spring light. I will love the lush greenness of the Palisades as they come into view. I will watch the sky and look for the first hints of the city skyline. I will think about that kid — that brave young girl — who dusted off her courage and set out three decades ago. Things have not turned out as she expected or she hoped then. There has been a lot of heartache along the way. But she ran after what she wanted. She ran as hard as she could. She is a reminder to me of what I am capable of accomplishing and what grit I have when I dig deep.
Back to the city of my dreams; back to the place where I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the subway running under my apartment building; back to streets where I was transformed from a child into a full-fledged woman. I will let you know what sorts of new treasures I find.
© 2012 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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