It has recently occurred to me that, while I find the quest for a great indie bookstore enormously satisfying and fun, some readers (oh, who am I kidding…my reader – Hi, Grandma) may not. So, for the non-bibliophiles, I intend to offer a bit more balance, a bit more on the city in general and on my impressions of it, since I can still present the perspective of a newcomer (and, honestly, I feel that I will always have that outsider worldview). As much as I love to be involved in the community and city around me, I take great pleasure in observing as well. I consider people-watching a sport, and, to put it modestly, if it were an Olympic sport, I’d win the gold. And the silver and bronze. While observing the shocked audience and the details on the face of the guy who put the medals around my neck, the tight lips that betray his jealousy of my shocking talent. Modesty.*
Since I’m still in the interim between arriving and working, I’ve had quite a bit of time on my hands. While I clearly enjoy the literary endeavors I’ve created for myself, they can only take up so much of the day. For one, I feel guilty for not buying anything in the bookstores and coffee shops, so it’s becoming pricier than I intended (although I’ve discovered some good coffees and find myself morphing from the non-coffee drinker that I had been previously. Uh-oh). For another, once I’ve taken the subway or the bus and walked to reach my bookstore destination, I can really only browse for so long (particularly if it’s not a store that offers nice chairs in which to comfortably preview books). The transit time vs. the time spent at the destination (especially if I am less than pleased with the bookstore) sometimes doesn’t seem worth it.
But it has given me time to write. I say that like I’m some notable novelist or respected blogger with ad space supporting me financially. False. However, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed writing. When I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, I forced myself to keep a journal, almost daily (I’m still surprised by my commitment to that goal). I remember finding it so burdensome on some (ok, most) days, especially those that consisted of my routine – going to class, doing some internet work at Moyo, coming home, watching an episode of Date My Mom, which was the only television program in English, going to LochNess with my roommates, etc. I leafed through those journals as I was packing my books in Knoxville, and I found myself confronted with memories that I had buried or events that I had completely forgotten already; I am beyond glad that I kept that journal. While I was there, I also sent weekly emails to family and friends to keep them involved with my European adventures (those who managed to read those extended essays are probably those same people who have the staunch dedication to read this blog now). Those emails and journals now serve as documentation of an incredibly formative period in my life.
The time to write and the rediscovery of the pleasure of writing has also inspired a chronic desire to write. When a thought occurs to me or some experience surprises me (be it positive or negative), I immediately think how I’m going to phrase it for the next time I write, how I’m going to develop it or extrapolate meaning from it. Writing has become incredibly therapeutic as I try to navigate my own thoughts, emotions, and fears about moving to New York. Before leaving Knoxville, a friend gave me a journal as a going-away gift. I loved it, but I doubted how much I would use it since I have been a poorly committed diarist of late; when I begin writing, I feel compelled to write everything, which becomes far too time-consuming and, eventually, burdensome. But the very next day, another friend urged me to keep a journal. It was a sign.**
Writing in the journal has proven difficult because of my perfectionist tendencies. I say that I just want to be reflective because the journal is ultimately private and I can expect no response; I’m writing to no one. Yet I find myself writing to “future reader” or “future Leah.” Although I need the space to articulate and write them out, I want my thoughts to be heard and challenged by feedback and others’ thoughts. Thus, whenever I have a “brilliant” thought, I think about how I’ll phrase it for a blog post. Even if nobody reads it or comments, I can at least preserve the illusion that somebody does in order to fulfill my desire for correspondence and community.
A famous Jewish novel that I just finished, Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, has this line: “I used to say to my loneliness: If it will not kill you, it will be the making of you. All great people have to be alone to work out their greatness.” I make no claims to greatness, but I can already tell that this solitary experience, along with the rekindled desire to reflect on and write about it, has started to “make” me into someone a little different, and hopefully a little better. Yet, I don’t want to be completely “great” and alone. So I write in a journal. And also a trifling blog.
*Clearly I’m having a strange, rambling day.
**By the way, MaryAnn, I’m now (perhaps “already” is a more appropriate term) 2/3rds of the way through your journal. Thanks again!