Reading my way into homesickness

“What is this thing that homogenizes complexity, difference, dynamic dialogic action for change and replaces it with sameness? With a kind of institutionalization of culture? With a lack of demand on the powers that be? With containment? My answer to that question always came back to the same concept: gentrification.”

–Sarah Schulman, The Gentrification of the Mind

I love to do research. It’s one of the best parts about starting a new writing project (well, that and the wide-open possibility inherent in a new project, the fact that it hasn’t yet failed to live up to the perfect version of itself in my mind that by draft three I’ll be forced to admit can never be fully brought out into the world and I’ll have to settle for the best version of it that I’m capable of).

With the final manuscript of The Revolution of Every Day turned in for copy editing, I would have expected I’d throw myself back into the farming research for Nightbirds, or started to work my way into the research for the novella that’s also nagging at me. Instead I’m still dug deep into some of the themes I explored for Revolution: gentrification, housing rights, grassroots activism in the Lower East Side… That’s in part because of my work with the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, and in part because I’m working on an essay related to those topics, but mostly because I’m finding that’s where my head is still at. I write to answer questions for myself, to understand what I think and where I stand, but that search isn’t done even though the novel is complete. I’m still figuring things out, trying to understand what I think and why. If anything, writing the novel has shown me how much I still have to learn. Which is as it should be, I suppose.

And so I’m reading Sarah Schulman’s excellent book. And still working my way through Resistance. And next on the pile is Selling the Lower East Side. It’s good reading, good food for thought. I have to wonder how it would feel to be working through all of this if we still lived in Brooklyn. I’ve recently become homesick for New York to a degree I hadn’t felt at all since our move to Portland in September 2007. Or maybe it’s just that I never allowed myself this degree of homesickness before. It wouldn’t have been safe to miss New York this much before we were completely entrenched in our life here in Portland. But I miss my city. And I miss my family, and I miss my friends.

We don’t plan to ever move back, and that’s fine. Portland is wonderful and a much better fit for our family as we are now. But…damn…

It’s hard to separate how much this is about missing New York and my friends and family there and how much it’s just about getting older. Am I homesick or am I missing my youth? I’ll turn forty in August. I’ve got the usual accumulation of scars. I’ve got a jawline that’s going soft. When I miss New York, I miss a very different life than the one I live here, but it’s not the life I would have there if we hadn’t left, either. I’d still be pushing forty. I’d still have the kids and the scars.

I don’t know. I meant to come here and tell you about the book I’m reading. I’d mostly just intended to share that quote up at the top with you. But here we are.

The family is asleep upstairs and I’m alone in my office. Outside my window, Portland smells of woodsmoke and is quiet except for the whistle of a cargo train down by the river. If we hadn’t left New York, I wouldn’t know those things—the sound of the trains at night, the way they play against the constant patter of rain on the roof, the way they work themselves into your dreams. In Brooklyn we heard gunshots every night. We did leave for a reason. Many reasons. Good ones. Maybe I need to sit with those a while tonight.

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8 comments on “Reading my way into homesickness
  1. Mary K. in Rockport says:

    There’s nothing like a train whistle to twang a heartstring.

  2. “I write to answer questions for myself, to understand what I think and where I stand” — I love that, Cari. Really, that’s the only reason TO write, whether it’s a grand opus like a novel or just a journal, a blog, or a letter. Interesting that the reasons for writing are so similar to the reasons for reading things written by others.

    I’m slamming into that wall called forty three whole months before you do, and I’m feeling pangs, too. Like, let’s have another baby because then everything will be just like 29 again (nevermind the inconvenient reality of the vasectomy; modern medicine ensures that where there’s a will, there’s a way). Then there’s the nostalgia factor; I get that, too.

    You know what you should read right now, that would resonate with all that homesickness and nostalgia? Ignorance, by Milan Kundera:

    And yes; train whistles are way better than gun shots.

  3. Lizbon says:

    I think you know that I know what you mean. But I know what you mean.

  4. Hi Cari – great to meet you at Buckman today. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I had wanted to tell you about a book I saw on our last trip to NY “Time and Space on the Lower East Side” - It’s really beautiful.

    Really looking forward to reading your book, and keeping up with your blog. See you around school!

  5. jan says:

    I moved out of NYC in 1991. I live in Oakland now and love it here, but I miss New York every single day. That homesickness doesn’t get better, it just grows more bittersweet.

  6. Alison says:

    Have you read The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, by Suleiman Osman yet? Aside from some linguistic ticks that slipped past the editor (to many Gemeinschafts!), it is truly excellent.

  7. Orli says:

    Boy, I can relate to this on so many levels. So many! I’ve been in Portland for six months and am logically aware of how much there is to love about the place, but I ache for New York in the way that I used to ache for lost loves. I physically yearn for it. I wonder how much of this is about the fact that I’m turning 39 in a couple of weeks, living a more domesticated life than I ever imagined, with a hubby, one gorgeous babe and another on the way. My childhood imagination just never got me quite this far. It got me to NYC :)

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Writer, With Kids