Portal fantasy, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Given opportunity, I keep to my own corner of Brooklyn. I mean that in a very localized way: If I can stay in my apartment and spend as little money as possible, I count it a win of sorts. This means that one, I’m very attuned to my surroundings and want them to be as personalized and pleasant as possible, and two, if I have no reason to go home quickly, I try to take advantage of a new neighborhood as fully as I can.

Depression means these two things don’t often happen. I take months, if not years, to settle into a living space, which means it’s often haphazard, messy and bare until shortly before I decide to leave. And while it would be a great idea to pick a part of the city, find a coffee shop there and work for a day, coffee shops tend to distract me and leave me too jittery to actually work. (Not being able to control my environment: fine for an office, apparently nowhere else.)

So I stay in the same place. And I stay and I stay and I stay. My shoulders start to ache, my spine goes hard, my eyes vibrate when I close them. The world becomes very small, and I expand to fill it all, banging around against the edges with only myself for reflection. That way does not lie a greater understanding of the beauties of the universe, let me tell you.

It really is an earnest effort to make myself do something, ironically enough. If I sit here and force myself to sit in front of this laptop until I submit to the work I must do, that I want to do, that I can be paid for, then ultimately it will happen. I keep testing this theory, and it doesn’t have a very high batting average. Then I get furious at myself for holding myself back, but soon it’s night and I’m exhausted, despite having done very little, and so I should get tucked in and just read until I fall asleep and gamely try tomorrow morning.

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One small box.

I get mad about so many aspects of my life right now. Even though I’m a freelancer, I can’t stop thinking of myself as unemployed. I’m angry that I feel unrecognized, despite all the encouragement from friends and mentors, despite knowing what a terrible market it is for journalists (in New York!) and young people in general, despite knowing how much of freelancing is rejection and hustle even when you have everything going for you, despite knowing that I simply haven’t done the work. (And whose fault is that?) I’m angry that my family all live far away and we’re not close, I’m angry that I’m terminally single, I’m angry that I don’t know what to do for fun, I’m angry that grief and depression are so nonlinear, so enervating, so slow. Who would work under those conditions? But when I go on strike against myself, there’s really no winning, scabs or no scabs.

You really start to think that’s all there is if you just stay in that room, pickling in those feelings. It gets so easy to think nothing ever will or can change. It doesn’t even occur to you that this isn’t how it’s always been.

Yesterday I had to get out of the house early; I needed to be in Williamsburg at 9 for a meeting. Williamsburg, the ur-hipster neighborhood of Brooklyn (unless it’s Bushwick, unless both of them are too passé and we’re supposed to care most about Long Island City, Queens, now) — is an hour by train for me. If you go up there, you might as well stick around. Yesterday, it wasn’t raining, it wasn’t cold; it was the January thaw, the brief taste of spring to last you through the winter. I knew I had to transcribe that interview I did before Christmas; I knew I had to outline that long story I’m excited about but somehow can’t make myself start; I knew I had phone calls to make, clients to chase down, journalism to write.

Instead, I just walked around. I went down streets I’d never gone down before. I didn’t have my phone out; I wasn’t even listening to anything. Something amazing happens when you’re just present, with nothing scaring you into hurrying. Your spine goes loose and tall, your breathing gets deeper, your mind quiets. You stop worrying about perfection and correct choices for a little while. You can just go with a feeling and turn left or right. I ate alone in a restaurant with a wry name; the quesadilla was phenomenal. I found my favorite candle (pine/fir) on deep discount. I people-watched. I opened up. My ribs weren’t a cage, and I just breathed for a while.

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New Mexico, July 2015

There’s this shop on Grand Street. I’d never been on Grand Street, even though it’s a main drag of the neighborhood, parallel to Metropolitan. It was early afternoon on a Wednesday, and no one was really in sight. But this shop had its doors wide open. I don’t even remember what was outside, except the sandwich board: Sorry for the mess. Everything 40% off! Don’t laugh: Something about this shop hooked me by the soul and reeled me in. “Riot of color” doesn’t do the insides justice. Every surface was covered with handcrafted art, beaten tin mirrors, Día de los Muertos statuettes, painted dioramas, worry dolls, beads, tinsel garlands, huge portraits of Frida Kahlo. The ceiling was a swarm of figurines and talismans suspended invisibly from fishing line. I wish I knew what the music was — a 19-hour mix, the kind and cheery owner told me; it blended indigenous chants and modern trip-hop and it wasn’t remotely bullshit.

I’ll fast-forward and tell you that that night, I lay in bed aching to transform my apartment into something so vital. I fantasized about a warm turquoise wall and art spilling over every available surface. I lay there thinking about a trip I took to New Mexico, the gorgeous art in Santa Fe and Taos, the landscape, the sky. I wanted to build with papier-mâché, an old obsession from childhood that always made me come alive, no matter what. I thought about going back to this shop in Williamsburg today, whether it really mattered, how little I have in my bank account, when I know how that long room full of items not remotely mine in terms of culture was just an hour and a train ride north.

I took home a small box that opens from the front like a theater. Inside is a stylized bird; above it float words about love — I can’t quite remember which. I may not have a person right now, but I sometimes buy romantic pieces, just for me. I wear a necklace with brass beads spelling out “I love you” in Morse code, a message to myself. A cousin recently gave me good advice about clearing out a space in my life and simply saying I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready.

We laugh a lot about the running Parks and RecreationTreat yo self!” meme, and maybe this makes me someone who throws money at her bad feelings, but I came home with four bags, including some amazing and long-desired ’40s-style work overalls, and I was at peace for the rest of the day. This morning, I didn’t rush, I didn’t lash myself, I didn’t get ready to starve myself (metaphorically) until I squeezed wine from stones (is that the metaphor?). Instead, I made a list, things that always make me happy. Little signs bearing messages make for an easy and scalable papier-mâché project. I’m going to leave love notes to myself around my living space: trees, Edward Hopper, city biking, Chicago, swing dancing, stained glass, whales, transformation.

The world is wide, and you’re never born too late. It’s easier to leave a place that you know will welcome you back.

I’m ready.

I’m ready. I’m ready.

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Read more about #52essays17. Hero image of Fuego 718 (249 Grand Street, Brooklyn) by Victoria Reed for the Bluegrass Situation.

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