Saturday, January 02, 2010

Thoughts on a Decade

I rang in the decade just ended at a friend’s apartment in Houston. I had driven there from Dallas, where I was living with my dad, his wife, and their daughter, who was about to turn four. I was between jobs and wondering whether I should relocate to Boston or New York. I loved (still do) my friends and family in Texas, but ever since a romance had ended in early 1999, thoughts of moving back north, where I had been born and had roots, were more insistent. In September 2000, I moved into a three-bedroom railroad apartment in Prospect Heights, a few blocks away from the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

I’ve been in the same general area since, though for much of the past decade, as longtime readers of this blog are aware, I’ve had a running internal dialogue about the costs and benefits of living in New York. My chosen city is one of a few factors that keep me from feeling as settled as I might as 2010 begins.

Just about a year after landing in Brooklyn, I spent one night getting soaked in a torrential downpour. I was stuck in Manhattan without an umbrella, and it was the kind of rain where once you’re uncovered for three seconds you don’t have a dry square inch left to protect. So I gleefully stomped around in it, and I remember calling my girlfriend from a pay phone (I was a stubborn cell phone holdout until the fall of 2006), feeling the water as it filled my shoes and then spilled over their edges. I’ve been in the ocean and been less wet. The next morning the rain had not only departed, it had left in its wake the kind of perfect fall day that constituted another reason I wanted to move back north. I got to my office -- on the seventh floor of a building on 53rd Street, just off Fifth Avenue -- and saw Patty (a coworker and now a very dear friend) walking down the hall with an expression of deep concern on her face. It looked like she might have been crying. I turned and saw several other colleagues gathered around a TV in a corner office.

In the week or two that followed, the city was a disturbing dream, everyone grieving and fearful, the famous skyline clipped, a rancid burning smell in the air for miles, soggy faces smiling from a thousand futile Missing posters taped up around rainy Union Square.

At first, the trauma of those days -- especially followed closely by reports of anthrax at Rockefeller Center, just a block or two from my office -- put me in fleeing mode. I fantasized about renting a car, packing up my books, and heading to Texas with some of my favorite highway music, as if driving backwards a year after moving could have possibly restored anything personal or cultural. Not too long after, the grief was galvanizing, and the city rallied, as it tends to do.

It was a busy decade personally as well as geopolitically: I became an uncle, started this blog, had the most fun I’ve ever had at a rock concert, discovered a hero of sorts just when I needed one, created The Second Pass, and made more close new friends than I had any right to at this stage of life.

I also watched as people close to me went through some very hard times, and then went through some hard times myself, partly as a result of that watching. As the decade closes, I wonder how much of its tribulation is due to bad luck and how much of it is simply due to life. At 26, I felt sheltered and untested -- a sensation that was at least part of the reason why I picked up stakes and moved to New York. On the verge of 36, I feel -- among other things -- tired and vulnerable. As my friend Nick and I sometimes say, maybe this is just being an adult.

I’m back where this post started: Between (full-time) jobs, and wondering what to do with myself. The same friend who hosted the New Year’s Eve party in Houston in 1999 now lives a couple of blocks away from me. He moved to Brooklyn midway through 2009, and I’m not sure how long he’ll stay, but it’s great to have him around. We’ll get together soon for a drink, I’m sure, toast the new year and talk about what the next ten years might bring.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello dear John. Isn't that a cruel bit of symmetry. And you and NIck are right: being an adult is not all it's cracked up to be. We are not free; we are beholden. Luckily, the past decade has taught me how to live with that. It's not so bad.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Great piece of writing, John. For selfish reason I wish you had made that drive back to Texas, we miss you down here. I'm inspired, I may try one of these myself.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Oh, and do you thinbk that within this next decade you might post your Movies list?

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful, Williams. I am happy that you never took that drive to Texas, but I do share this with Dezmond: Where is that damn movie list? Seems like you've been talking about it since the eighties. Happy 2010! JZ

3:15 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I'm stunned, in more ways than one.
Lets get that drink.

1:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So very nicely done. Your fan, the Humorless Feminist.

5:48 PM  

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