Due to construction at my office, I’ve been blessed with a rare Friday off. I took the subway into Manhattan, I’m currently in a cafe near Astor Place, having taken a rather lengthy walk through the West Village, mostly enjoying the astonishingly beautiful weather (it should be 70°F and sunny all the time!) but also looking for inspiration.
One of the things that I love/hate about New York City is that it’s always changing. I walked by a restaurant this afternoon that must have closed recently, because I’m sure I ate there a couple of months ago. The restaurant has been there a while, since I remember eating there with my mother after we took a tour of NYU back when I was applying to college. It was strange to see the awning gone, the for-sale sign in the window.
When I was a teenager, my friends and I would take the bus from my hometown in the Jersey suburbs into Port Authority—which I still kind of think of as the eighth level of hell, though it’s been cleaned up considerably—and we almost always took the subway down to the West Village. We were mostly lower-middle-class kids, so we never had a lot of money. One of our favorite occupations was thrift-store shopping, and it used to be that you could wander around the Village and pop in and out of stores that would sell you clothes by the pound.
The first time I walked down Christopher Street was kind of an accident. It was a couple of years after I moved to New York City. I was lost. It’s not hard to get lost in the Village; it’s literally off the grid, not even the numbered streets running parallel. I was trying to get to a bar on West 4th Street (which, much to my great disappointment, closed a couple of years ago) and I’d made a stop first at some store, and then I just started walking in the direction I was pretty sure was west. And then I realized I was on Christopher Street which, at the time, was all glitter and rainbow flags.
Today, it felt a little sterile. Maybe it was just the sun. Maybe everyone’s in Washington Square Park. The Stonewall Inn is, naturally, still bedecked with more rainbow flags than any building you’ve ever seen, but the rest of the stretch I walked today looked surprisingly nondescript. Across the street, all of the benches in Christopher Park were occupied, people sharing space with the statues, painted white, which I thought looked kind of ghostly (maybe the intention?). The statues commemorate the Stonewall Riots. I also walked by a scary number of empty storefronts today. A sign of our current economic climate? A sign of a bygone era? I walked east a little ways and stopped in a cafe for a snack, ran into a schmoopy gay couple, alternately kissing and trying to decide which kind of cupcake to order. It’s hard not to think about the course of events here, not to remember that those weird white statues are meant to represent the event that made it possible for these two men to kiss in front of a bakery display case just because.
I’m currently trying to revise a novella and having kind of a hard time of it, because sunshine distracts me. I also like reveling in the weird ephemera of New York, in the memory of a city that no longer exists, in ponderings of what the city might become.
I wonder sometimes if it’s a cliche to write fiction set in New York City, but write what you know, right? I love New York and love reading and writing about it.
(Funny, though, that my first published novel does not take place in New York! But Noah is a New Yorker.)
My mind’s still reeling a little, too, after a writers group workshop in which a murder-mystery WIP of mine (which takes place almost entirely in Brooklyn, for what it’s worth) got pretty well eviscerated. I’m taking it as an opportunity to think that the group saved me from sending out a novel that didn’t work. I miss sometimes, and it’s good to be reminded of that. So I’ll go back and revise. But after I spend a little more time in the sunshine.