Friday, January 15, 2010

Worldhood and Spatiality

I never thought of New York as crowded.

There are crowds. And oh yes, there are lines. My God, are there lines: DMV lines, grocery lines, conga lines. But the city itself? I never thought of it as crowded. To me, these five boroughs are the most wide open spaces I have ever known.

These reflections came to me as I commuted to work on a sick-passenger delayed train. It feels almost redundant to say this but it was crowded. Faces in armpits, hands reaching over hands, a baby crying, someone talking too loudly on a cellphone and a sea of annoyed faces -- nothing unusual in this picture. I was plowing through Proust as the train lumbered over the Williamsburg Bridge, when I saw the glittering expanse of Midtown unfold before me. Behind me, my mind's eye saw the Lower East Side, Brooklyn Heights... yes, this is New York.

It didn't feel crowded anymore. It felt... free. It felt like the... world -- warm, inviting, exciting. It smelled like Ethiopian food on MacDougal, ethnic festivals and road-races in Central Park, and those tasted like sushi, like salmon and lox and strawberry jam on waffles, like haggis and chowder and pies, and then a short trek away from mofongo and cuchifritos in Spanish Harlem, 10 more minutes to Japanese tourists cheering on the Yankees in the bleachers (pour out an Asahi for the memory of Matsui), and 20 more minutes to memories of high school, a world-class zoo. 

Were I to turn my mind's eye to the south I would have seen a bustling arts community, my favorite beer, the site of my first race, and innumerable memories of ineffable joys.

And then to the east there was home. And the world. Indians, Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Latvians, Haitians, Jamaicans, Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, Pakistanis, Arabs, Czechs, Algerians and all of them Americans, and all of them living next door to one another. I love to travel to see the world. Maybe it's because the world was kind enough to bring living travelogues to my doorstep by the hundreds and the thousands?

As I gaze upon New York in my mind's eye I feel this elation, this openness and beckoning. I feel a shout surging up within my soul, I want to scream and run out into the world. That looks like meeting new friends and learning new greetings. Some clasp hands and others give dap, some hug and others bow -- loud and quiet, joyous and refined, and everything between.

This is the world.

I think that's the demarcation line between those who love New York and those who don't. Is New York the world or is it just a lot of people? It's the worldhood of your world. Alternate words: worldiness, worldishness. What makes up your world, the realm of your existence? My existence, in my definition, its spaces and loci -- coffee shops, restaurants, street corners, internet meetup groups, backyard barbeques, chance meetings on random trains, JFK, LAG, EWR. Could I make my home elsewhere?

I hear nice things about Berlin. Hong Kong. Sydney. Singapore. Shanghai. Tokyo. London. San Francisco and LA to a certain extent. I love the city. God, I love cities. And these cities, from what I hear of them -- I've only been to one on the list, are all international cities. I remember running along the river in Hong Kong, popping into a cafe and hearing French, English and Cantonese all being spoken at different tables. But these cities are not the world, more properly, they are not *my world.*

SoHo, NoHo, NoLita, MoHei, ScOHa, SoBro, UES, UWS, Midtown, Astoria, Sunset Park, Chinatown, all 3 of them, Curry Hill, K-Town, Elmhurst, Ridgewood, Willburgh, Red Hook, Chelsea, Canarsie, Bed Stuy, kill 'em with the flow, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst...

And that's just because I don't know anything about mysterious Staten Island.


I don't feel crowded in New York. I feel liberated.

I feel crowded in homogeneity. Is this why I've so often felt as if my own church was so suffocating? In a church of let's say 500, there are at least 490 Chinese people. For me, that's far too much. "Around The World in 80 Days" was one of the first books I read on my own and it's difficult to sarecount the way that it enraptured me. I went to Baruch InterVarsity and that profoundly changed me. When everyone walks, looks and talks the same, I feel as if I need to step out into the world for a breath of fresh air.

Step into this world. My world.

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