City Porn (it’s not what you think)

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

When Brooklyn felt too heavy to hold onto, I moved to Boulder, Colorado. There, I continued my undergraduate degree (which by that time spanned seven years) and gave myself permission to slow down.

The mountains became my new lover; I strutted my nude to them every morning against large window overlooking their height and contours.

Being away from New York allowed me time to see other ways of living. I breathed in the smell of earth, minus the impressively potent stench of urine. Buildings were uninterrupted by graffiti. Bricks were just bricks. Bars and businesses closed earlier than I was used to, but this just gifted me more hours of sleep.

As the weeks and months fell at my feet, I found myself longing for the smells and sirens of New York. During the day, I was present in Colorado. At night, I fantasized about Brooklyn and the boroughs that suddenly seemed too far away.

I began romantic entanglements with woman, and as we’d knock our lips together, I thought about 4th Avenue where I had a panic attack outside a gay bar and had to get nine stitches in my chin. I made love to a hippie, while imagining West 4th Street serenading me, signing its Stonewall history into my skin. I had a brief affair with a slam poet, but all I could think about was Prospect Park during Autumn with the leaves straddling several shades of red and orange and the music of their crunch against green and brown ground.

One year plus some weeks and months into my Rocky Mountain relocation, and I am sitting in a waiting room, about fifteen minutes early for my therapy appointment. I peruse the coffee table full of well-read magazines and almost gasp when I notice a surprising old friend: Time Out New York. At the time, I thought it odd to be sitting there, a periodical tease, flaunting its lit readings and gallery openings.

I looked around me as though I was picking up a dirty magazine, flipping to the centerfold. I felt so guilty, knowing once I opened it, I’d be reminded of all I was missing. So, I frantically flipped, before anyone came out.

Now, I am not exaggerating when I confess that I was sweating. Triathlon sweat. Walking across country wearing wool socks and an overcoat in August sweat.

It felt just like sex often does: every vein being tangled with, coupled with guilt and remorse. I scanned the museums, angry that I was missing an exhibition with Marina Abramovic. I noted my favorite novelist was doing a book signing. A new restaurant had opened in my old neighborhood. All the photos of all the people taunted me with their big city happiness. I was reaching my orgasm and it was actually real this time. I threw the magazine across the room, just before my therapist opened her door and gestured for me to come in.

I spent just over three years in Colorado and in that time, I lived in five different apartments: a studio, two bedroom where I lived with a hoarder, another studio where the building became infiltrated with bed bugs, a one bedroom with my partner and dog, and then the bottom floor of a house with porch, backyard and nearby ice cream shop. New York never left me, even though I tried to lose its number. I distracted myself with quinoa and kale (two words I never uttered before moving to Colorado). I became a full-time hippie, with dreadlocks and body hair and bare feet and……I’m not sure how any of that correlates to being a bohemian, but I felt free. Free‘er. 

And when no one was looking, I got out my Time Out New York, hidden beneath mattress, old Metro card, tiny bits of paper with directions to various city haunts, took off all my clothes and masturbated to the memory of my favorite city.

It’s been over six years that I’ve been back in Brooklyn and suddenly, I find myself daydreaming again of the city I disregarded. At night, when New York City finally sleeps, I reach underneath mattress and find atlas with dog-eared page for Colorado, fingering East Colfax Avenue and route 287, dreaming of the Rockies….

following the waves of coney island

You fill your bag with clementines, chocolate and an empty bag for the shells you hope to catch. You sit beside a writer who unravels her days as though they are novels. You scrub out all the wax unintentionally collected in both ears so as not to miss a word. You hit traffic lights and listen to the sound of impatient cars outside each window. When you travel down the alphabet of street names, you finally reach ocean.

In New York, it is so easy to see bricks and concrete and potholes and urine stains but a handful of miles away, there is blue and there is salt water and there are sea gulls and there is a boardwalk.

You digest the ocean. Man jogs by, moaning and gasping as he passes by. You giggle because you don’t run, so the only time you make those sounds are during sex. A spandex’d man on his bike stops to remind you how Coney Island used to look. The dilapidated wood used to be sturdy and handsome. Storms have rummaged Coney Island’s insides and outsides. You can feel the sadness of his reminisce.

You get high. Walk over to the sand and sit beside the shells and crushed crab bodies. You share chocolate and stories. You ignore pangs of anger that you do not come here more often. You are here now. You are here now.

At some point, you eat a corn dog and french fries. You ignore the thick whispers of winter edging its voice onto your earlobe. You still have some time and the air is warm enough to remain outside.

Until the sun goes down.

As the hours drip past, you head back toward parked cars and sleeping rollercoasters. You thank Coney Island for still being alive after all these years. For always remaining open, even when closed.

dear…

We live exactly one and a half miles from each other and I have just mailed my one-hundred and seventh letter to him. It is a twenty-eight minute walk between our apartments in Brooklyn and an eight to ten minute bike ride depending upon the strength of my bones at the time. We see each other almost every day and even with these face-to-face encounters, these letters have continued to remain between us.

I have been a dedicated letter writer for over a decade. I often make my own cards to further personalize the experience and my slightly obsessive need for organization causes me to keep track of every letter to each recipient by marking the date next to their address on a tiny piece of paper I keep with me at all times. Some of the people I write to are close friends, others are ones I’ve met only a handful of times but appreciate the exchange of words through the mail. I never expect a letter back; I write in order to give away my language.

As a writer, I recognize that words are exchanged between people all the time, though often the medium is through glass screen of computer or telephone. We rarely give away our actual handwriting or take the time to slip our words into envelopes that we must lick closed with pre-purchased Forever stamp in right corner.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a love affair through the mail.

The first time was with a beautiful Canadian I met at university in Boulder, Colorado. We met fourteen days before the end of the Spring semester and in those two weeks, we learned as much as we could about each other. She taught me the proper way to cut a mango and in the evenings, we’d stroll beneath the moon with Malbec in mugs, walk her dog and teach each other our histories. She had to go back to her home to work in the summer months and I went back to Brooklyn to do the same. As we neared the moment of leaving each other, she asked me to be her pen pal. I barely hesitated before exclaiming, Yes! During the course of that entire summer, I wrote her forty-two letters. Some would be on receipts from cafes I drank coffee in. There were letters written on tree bark, found amongst the grass of Prospect Park. One letter was just a collection of flowers I had picked during a walk, shrunken and dried by the time it reached her in western British Columbia. In turn, she mailed me pea pods picked off a tree at the camp she was working at. She wrote on postcards and on the backs of photographs. There were some letters that reeked of her salt, sweating off her skin from the hot summer sun.

When we finally saw each other again in person at the end of August, I found myself deeply in love with her. We had shared so much of our days and the words were like curled threads sewing us closer together. I exchanged more words with her on paper than in person, but this created an ease between us. We began dating, eventually moved in together and though the letters stopped, we never ran out of words. Little post-its left as love notes replaced paper pushed into envelopes.

Fast forward a few years and distance found us again. Three hours time difference. A border crossing. Two thousand, four hundred and forty nine miles between us (give or take). She went back to Victoria, B.C. to work toward her master’s degree and I went back to Brooklyn to do the same. The letters started back up, but our vigorous schedules yielded fewer words between us. We introduced other modes of communication such as Skype, though poor Internet connections often led to frustrations or fights. After about seven months, we broke up. I still sent her the occasional letter, but then that fluttered away. I realized I needed to mourn the loss of that love and let go of our letter exchange.

Fast forward once more and I find myself with a stack of stamps once again. On a Sunday in March, I stood in a fancy east village bar with paper-over-linen tablecloths, polished chandeliers and over-priced drinks. I noticed him the moment he entered the room in burgundy converse, suspenders hugging t-shirt, jeans and baseball cap. My previous methods of flirting usually existed within silent treatments. If I’m interested, I’ll usually ignore the person. Needless to say, I don’t have very much luck with this strategy.

It was an evening of poetry, music and performance art. As I took the stage, I looked over at him to see if he was paying attention. I thought: this is my chance to impress him. I’m rubbish at articulating myself, but on the stage, I find my words through my poems. I couldn’t tell if he was listening or not and by the end of the night, when I hoped to find my courage to ask him for his number, he had already left.

Several days later, I get a text message from a friend that Burgundy Shoes wanted my phone number. An hour later, I received a message on my phone from him asking me out for coffee and the next evening we met at a bar in Williamsburg at a friend’s music show. Before the loud music began, as we awkwardly shared words and drank non-alcoholic beer, I tried to gauge his level of interest in me. During one point of the evening, I stood beside him with my hand so close to his, I could feel the heat pulse off his knuckles. Unfortunately, two shy people equaled an evening of G-rated body language.

As our friend gathered up his things, Burgundy Shoes and I waited. We soon realized we were standing beside a photo booth. He slipped himself inside the tight space and inserted money into the slot beneath the bench. Another friend pushed me in and before I had a chance to get nervous being so close to him, the camera began snapping photos of us.

Photo number one: We are looking at the screen, smiles wider than a four-lane highway.

Photo number two: I am looking at him. My unruly curls hide my face, but his begins to turn from smile to serious gaze.

Photo number three: I move in closer. If photographs came with their own caption, this one might read: I am about to kiss you.

Photo number four: Our mouths finally mash together as though they had been training for decades for this moment.

We, along with our friends, made our way from one part of Brooklyn to another on a bus leading us to a different bar where Burgundy Shoes and I kissed with parched tongues, pressing our bodies together as though they knew each other for years. At two in the morning, we reluctantly decided to make our way back to our respective homes. We held hands and kissed at every stop sign and red light. When we reached the point where he needed to turn left, we said goodnight.

A week into our collision, I received a text message from Burgundy Shoes that requested my address. I had mentioned my love of mail and he wanted to send me some. Five months later and we are still exchanging letters, often daily. Sometimes, he reads me the letters in person. One Sunday, he hand-delivered one so that I could get magical Sunday post.

I found myself falling in love with this romantic, kind human through his black-inked words. I was hesitant to allow myself to feel these feelings again, having been broken-hearted several times before and not sure if I could risk doing it again. But love is thick and bold enough to keep reeling us in, even though it so often ends in heartache. It is beyond a drug; it is like a second set of lungs breathing for us. The air becomes flavored. Every noise is like a harmonized symphony—even the car honks and door slams sound like a top-forty tune.

When we end one love affair, there is a moment of readjustment. What is necessary to leave behind and what is learned? Memories stop being about the people we are with and more about the person we were when we were with them.

My desires are evolving. Who I find myself attracted to is shifting and widening. Burgundy Shoes makes it safe for me to share my reluctance for parts of my body and I celebrate the constant changes growing on his skin.

We also have a shared fondness for napping against trees. He is just as much in love with the moon and its various shapes and methods of glow as I am. He is the Brooklyn hippie I have been searching for.

Through our letters, we have grown closer in a short amount of time because every day is stuffed onto these pages and mailed out.

Love is inconsistent and scary. It is in constant rough draft mode, revising itself through cross-outs and drafts. My pen pal and I do our best not to lose track of the uniqueness of this relationship. We’ve since started notebooks where we place more of our words inside, swapping them back and forth. One of which is a tiny black book we fill with our fantasies. Words are loud and can be far more forthcoming when mailed out because one must wait. One must channel patience as postal workers diligently gather up carefully addressed envelope from blue box toward the one it is meant for. As a society, we have grown restless, often unable to wait days for things. We send out our words and expect an immediate response. Sometimes love needs to linger in the air before it is delivered to the one it grows for.

 

“helmet hair is very beautiful”

It is a Monday evening and the air feels far more chilled than it did a few hours earlier. I am biking from one part of Brooklyn to another toward home. Lately, my rides are filled with songs, not from stuffed-up ears playing pre-recorded tunes, but from my mouth. Sometimes I make up songs or start poems, as I glide down streets and turn corners.

Heleanore, my rusty bike, houses the weight of my body and due to its constantly stubborn lack of gear shifting, I often find myself moving slower. My speed– or lack there of– has been a cause of slight shyness when others want to ride along with me. Oftentimes, I am left behind, which is fine by me. Like dancing, I prefer to ride alone.

Here I am, with broken bike seat beneath my seat, with invisible moon haunting me lovingly behind clouds when suddenly:

“Hey, can I tell you something?” says bike rider rolling beside me in bike lane, with flashing lights in front and back, wearing spandex and helmet and sly smile.

Uh, yeah. Sure, I say with deep reluctance.

“Helmet hair is very beautiful.” Anonymous bike guy then proceeds to speed along past me, before I could respond.

*

Here is the thing: No, I was not wearing a helmet and although this is not required by law, I recognize that I am putting my safety at risk. Biking in New York City is a completely different experience from other places I’ve rolled over. There are bike lanes; however, cars often forget their manners in these parts.

I didn’t mind the reminder to be safe– even from a stranger. What I did mind was attributing my lack of helmet wearing to some sort of beauty regimen. I immediately thought: if I were male, would he have still approached me in this way with this particularly gendered language?

Twenty minutes later, I arrived home safely. Chained Heleanore to post near my apartment and walked up the stoop to my home. Thought about helmets and all the other ways in which I put my safety at risk. I thought about all the reasons one should protect themselves from falls and that time the concrete hit me in a way that loosened my teeth and forced nine stitches in my skin. I was not on a bike (therefore a helmet may have been awkward) but we are often reminded of the impermanence of our bodies in times such as these.

For the record, I am not worried about aforementioned helmet hair, nor am I particularly bothered about beauty or lack there of in me.

I am, however, interested in remaining in tact (now) for as long as I can.

say something nice now.

This body is beautiful simply because it exists. After the mad, the starving, the sliced open-and-out-of memories, the question marks and mangled screams, this body still wakes.

Today, when you are feeling like the wind is too pushy, bend your way toward a moment of kindness.

The moon is polyamorous and will never run out of energy to love someone new. Give it your phone number. Invite it in. Its glow will remind you how illuminated you are.

Bridges are not just meant for jumping. They guide you toward the other side. From Brooklyn to Manhattan. From one borderland to another. Even with your fear of heights, look down, but remain on your level. It is a curious and brave thing to remain sturdy and steady.

Now, you can love. Now, you can love because you are gathering up letters beside your bed that remind you how necessary you are. These letters exist on paper and etched in your skin. Your silences have grown muscular. With tongue and vocal chord. Your silences no longer want to remain still. Now, you can speak up and love without restrictions.

Give up your hiding spaces. You deserve to be seen. In whatever form you take up and in as many ways as possible.

This body is beautiful because it exists. Because after all this time, it still asks questions and takes questions and has even has a collection of answers now.

 

clarity.

“i think i’m who i think i am” 

This was found on a wall type-written on fabric on a street called Dean in Brooklyn on a walk beside a poet who noticed it at almost the same time and while the poet photographed, I thought of all the ways these eight words mean something.

Perhaps one often wonders: what am I, really?

Perhaps there is a sense of: What is felt is what one really is.

I’ve got all these phantom feelings. Ghost gender. I think I am something invisible to others.

Several evenings ago, a human came up to me after a performance and they asked what led me to what I wrote. They wanted to know who it was about. I say: me.

They immediately looked at my chest and I tried not to notice. I was unbound, yet covered by shirt and vest. They said: But I don’t understand. What you wrote about….well….I’d have expected you to have bound your breasts or something.

My chest inhaled deeply at that moment. I began to defend my (momentarily) unbound chest, but stopped.

I announced again: It was about me. Bodies are complicated and don’t always need to defend inconsistencies. 

I think I’m (still figuring out) who I think I am. I think I may always be. I think there is something deeply impactful about giving ourselves permission to change our minds about how our bodies/gender/heart/voice/skin/mind/… make us feel. I think I may never figure all of me out. But that should never stop us from continuing the translation.

what else grows in brooklyn.

Dear Rebel,

This air is confusing. Outside, trees convulse like belly dancers without a belly. Tiny bits of life form on their branches and peek out from well-packed soil, flirting with this chilled air. They are calling this spring, but you are trapped beneath layers of snow and my hands have taken on a skin tone of chapped strawberry blond.

There are deadlines and dates and bleached scraps of language, tie-dyed into genderless terms of endearment. I think I may have found my noun.

I have put on weight, Rebel. It is shaped like Brooklyn, kind of bloated and curved, without angles and crowded. Winter fed me three affairs and two nondescript encounters and spring has already been titled: ellipses…………..

Don’t you want to know how this will end. Or what if this time, there is no period, but simply a line of dots dangling against burnt fingertips and I know what you are thinking: nothing lasts forever. But what would happen if something did.

 

 

 

some thoughts on magic and measurements.

…..first Sunday of new year and toes begin to weep away frozen hangnails
 
I traveled under
the brooklyn queens
expressway
over black and grey
snow. Got lost inside
a taxi cab just for you
to read my skin again.

Yesterday, this face was called unpretty. What is it about measurements and masculinity that causes others to feel so threatened or disrobed.

After the romantic comedy ordered for free on computer screen, she removed shirt and began to cut her hair. Each slice was deliberate. Hair was pressed into last plastic bag meant for sandwiches not split ends. This pile of locks is for the woman who lives underground and all around me. When others visit her, they bring rocks. I give her my hair.

After three decades of back-and-forth addiction, I may have settled on this last one. Call it magic or movement. Cannot be purchased from neighbor who cooks it in his kitchen. Or bodega window where if you only want one and not the whole pack, that can be arranged. Or from lover who stores it in jars meant for fireflies or love notes. This drug is less visible and cannot be hidden in pockets or up nose. Last night, when I chased it all across Brooklyn, I fell inside winter potholes, hidden by frozen water. Most drugs can be purchased; this one needs to be found.

We can talk about our gender all day, but when I think about your mouth, I am reminded of the canoe I clung to years ago. You make me think of rivers and walls removed. You make me think of yellow and that photograph of costa rican sunset that hired a muralist to create such an exquisite marriage of red and orange. You make me think of oxygen and the ways in which you have trained yours to communicate with the earth to wrap itself around oceans and caves. You make me think of the labels sewed into the roots of my skin and the sensation of digging these restrictions up and out of my body.

Last week, this body was called gaunt. What is it about binding my body into a carefully unedited story that causes others to fear starvation.

Here is [some] modern love. This has everything to do with the love affair I find myself in with my osteoblasts. And the night I thought about Rebel’s question of rebirth through orgasm. So, I found my nude while rain wrung out its sad against my windows. And I did not think about addiction to magic and melting measurements. Instead, I gained entrance to the parts of me I am strange to. It is too soon to call it rebirth; maybe just a new devotion to the complication and deeply erotic overwhelm of my self.

found he(art).

photo by Peggy Dyer peggydyer.com

photo by Peggy Dyer
peggydyer.com

Some things are intentionally left behind. The trash cans are overflowing on this side of the states and one wonders why we don’t twist more metal into deepened cups where all this refuse can go.

But one person’s remains is another’s shelter or supper or scraps for what will one day be a coffee table or bookshelf. On the corner of Utica and Carroll, notice the umbrella cemetery. They huddle like stretched out bodies but maybe they can be refurbished as waterproof leg warmers.

Alternate your pattern of looking. The sky offers many rewards, but so does this ground. Here in Brooklyn, garbage can woo you. Stop and notice the plastic muscle beating on the sidewalk. How beautiful is this litter and does it make you want to search out another human to give it to?

courtesy of sadness

In the city, which never sleeps, it is difficult to find a napping New Yorker. Even on the subway, there are restless multi-taskers swiping away at their ipads and cell phones. Some balance laptops on laps, while others can be found with a thick pile of papers atop their thighs to prepare for an array of early morning meetings. New Yorkers are always busy and because of this preoccupation with always doing something, they tend to forget to notice what exists around them.

Underground, we seek out seats and balance the weight of gym bag and yoga mat and briefcase and backpack and pocketbooks the size of small suitcases. There are rare moments when the doors open and you have many seats to choose from. During peak hours (and in New York, all hours are peak), you must shimmy your way in and do your best not to let you hands wander; humans get very, very close underground.

Amidst this overcrowded chaos, there are moments where humanity exists in the most symphonic way. Look to your left and you may catch the little girl around 4 or 5 years old singing nursery rhymes to herself as her mom or guardian looks on. A guy at the end of the train seems to have forgotten that he is not in his bathroom, as he lifts bare feet up and begins clipping his toenails. I seem to be the only one in fear of a flyaway piece of hardened keratin. A female nuzzles with her lover: another young woman with a tattoo of a dragon on her forearm. Many act as though they cannot be seen and this is when we can catch bits of uncensored New Yorker emotion.

This is what I look for.

This is what reminds me that although we go home to different sized apartments (some have no home to go to) or engage in lifestyles of varied monetary styles, we are all here on this train together. Religion, race, economic background, or educational history do not matter.

The cover charge is the same for everyone: $2.50 per ride. As I look, I take out my red notebook and begin to write what I see.

***

It is impossible not to notice the color of May sky on her fingernails. Blue unlike turquoise or swimming pool or deserted-island ocean. Blue like the color of sadness. And she was crying. This young woman, perhaps around twenty-four or younger, had drops of salt falling from her eyes, brown like dug up earth. I sat across from her on the 3 train heading back into Brooklyn on a Sunday. It was early and it seemed like she may have been wearing last night’s attire: carefully ripped stockings, short black skirt that was neither leather nor linen. Cotton spandex mix? Her shirt was also black—true New York fashion derived from the allure of midnight: dark and slimming. Her hair was tossed up into a high pony tail/bun combination. I couldn’t stop staring.

Sometimes I really believe I am invisible as I travel underground from one borough to another. Brooklyn into Manhattan or Queens to the Bronx. Strangers stuck in a train with windows, which do not open. We involve ourselves in technological distractions: the latest popular downloaded game on fancy cell phone; rapper-endorsed headphones over ears blasting shuffled music; travel-sized electronic books. Some sleep. Some sneak sips of beer hidden inside brown paper bag. I have seen mothers nurse their babies and change diapers. I have seen fancy-suited proselytizers. I have seen guardians hit their kids. I have seen the beginnings of sex, heavy petting and deep-rooted foreplay. There has been vomit and piss and spilled meals and grime and rain all staining the floors and seats of these trains.

On this particular Sunday, I want to offer this young person a tissue. I want to climb in the empty orange seat next to her and hold her painted fingers as we sit in silence. I want to ask her what happened. I look around and wonder if anyone else notices what I am noticing or if they are stuck inside the NY code of contact to ignore, ignore, ignore.

Some occurrences on the subway elicit a response. Whenever God is mentioned, there is someone else on the train ready to retaliate. A man screams at his girlfriend and several people get involved to protect. A kid screams his/her way into a deafening tantrum and everyone rolls their eyes at once. But sadness tends to induce complete disregard. Perhaps it is so elevated in ourselves that it is too difficult to notice it in others. So, when this girl cries into her hands, she becomes deeply ignored. All eyes look away, except mine.

There are many rites of passage as a NYC subway rider. The top three that tend to eventually baptize commuters into “true New Yorkers” are: falling asleep and missing your stop, vomiting on the subway and crying while underground. I have reached all three and some more than once.

We tend to notice what we want to notice. Or sometimes we see what we want others to see in us. I notice the sad. When I am stuck on a train full of laughter, my eyes will gather steam from the couple at the far end who are nodding off, track marks on exposed forearms and twitching with each stop. Maybe I feel the need to notice the forgotten humans—the ones cast aside because they look crumpled or lost. The ones who smell. The ones disconnected through distracting electronica.

This particular woman still has the stain of Saturday’s lipstick on lips. I can tell it is from yesterday because it is darkest on the ends and far more faint throughout the rest of her mouth. I watch her take out cell phone and rub finger along screen. She is scrolling up and down, reading something. I imagine her reading text messages from whoever or whatever she came from. Perhaps she is reading something that birthed these tears. A text-messaged break-up? Her lips move as she silently reads from the screen. Her forehead squints into furrows. Her tears stop and now she looks angry. What is happening? She looks up and notices me noticing her. I look down because maintaining eye contact with this beautifully sad woman is far too intimate for me at this time of the day. I prefer being unnoticed or maybe I just enjoy having control over this noticing. It makes me wonder if anyone is noticing me.