Science Fiction: A Bastion of Hope

Social work, I tell people, is about holding hope for others when they are unable to hold it for themselves. More often than not, I meet people when they are in the midst of some sort of crisis. That crisis has painted their world pretty dark, and optimistic isn’t very high on the list of things they are feeling. And yet, the very act of going to therapy is an act of hope — it’s taking a chance that there may be another way to feel, another way to live life. They come with a spark, and it’s my job to help them nurture and grow that spark. I help them see the strengths they already have, and learn to accept that being human means having imperfection. When all else fails, I sit with them in their darkness until they can contemplate the existence of light again.

The world feels very scary to a great deal many people in my life right now. Here in the US, the electoral college just elected a man that the majority of the nation did not vote for, and he is pushing for policy most of us oppose. I have teenage clients being told by bullying classmates that they will be deported, Jewish clients being threatened with swastikas, trans clients terrified for their safety, and countless female clients terrified for their rights (including the right to not be sexually assaulted). Facts are being re-branded as opinions, and science dismissed as an elitist and biased view. People don’t know how to tell if the stories they are reading are real or fake — and too many people don’t even care. If it sounds like the truth (or rather, like what they already believe), that’s good enough.

It’s times like this that I hold on to one of my first and greatest loves: science fiction. Science fiction and fantasy have covered all this territory before. I think I have managed to read a story or see a movie about every kind of terrible thing that humanity can do to itself, or have done to them by some greater power. I have read every kind of ending as well, from the dark and nihilistic, to the fiercely optimistic. The most recent was the latest Star Wars movie, whose tag line is this:

While I can’t assume to know the motivation of every author out there, I can’t help but think that the reason why so many writers create such dark worlds is to show people a way through that darkness. However big the odds, there are always heroes willing to take them on. However hard the path, there are feet willing to walk it, and however horrible the consequences, there are people willing to risk it all. For hope.

Hope is one of the great themes of science fiction: where it lives, how it endures, what it can accomplish, what happens when it dies. You cannot tell a story about human beings without also talking about their hopes and dreams. My particular interest in science fiction and fantasy is the way it can take the human condition to the furthest stretch of “what if” and provide a possible answer to what humans would do then. And more often than not, what humans will do, whenever given even the tiniest chance, is hope.

Like many others, I found 2016 to be a very challenging year. I don’t know if we all just collectively only focused on the bad and missed the good (though a lot good happened as well), but it seemed like the year when a lot of people realized, as the great William Goldman (of The Princess Bride) said: “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” None of us are buying this year.

Still, it’s my job to hold hope. The only reason I have been able to is that I spent my childhood practicing this skill. I usually needed it about midway through a book when everything in the story started getting darker and darker. I definitely needed it right before the end, when it seemed like any sort of happy ending would be impossible. But I stuck with it (and didn’t skip ahead) and even if all the characters would not survive the story, one thing almost always did: hope.

So I’d pick up the next book, and the next, and the next, and get the same message again and again. However dark the world, there were good people in it. However horrible humanity could be, there were other humans willing to stand up for the weak, for the innocent, and for the best in all of us.

And that is why I can look at 2016 and understand — the story is not over yet. I don’t know if 2017 will be a dark chapter or not, but I do know that in the end, however long this series goes, the good will win. We just have to keep flipping the pages, and we’ll get there eventually.

*originally published on The Stiletto Gang blog.

A Moment of Discord

What makes a person change?

This is the question that fills my life — my life as a therapist, and my life as a writer. How does a person grow and evolve? What makes them change their minds, their hearts, their views? According to Wikipedia, “a character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story.”

In fiction, the character arc — and the general plot of the story — begins with the inciting incident, or the thing that starts the whole plot rolling. Without this incident, there would be no conflict, no push forward. Without the inciting incident putting events into motion, there would be no reason for the character to have an arc, for the character to change.

Real life rarely has a linear plot, and so it’s really hard to find inciting incidents in it. Sometimes big events happen that force people to deal with them, like death or moving, or gaining or losing a job. And yet the event itself doesn’t necessarily lead to any sort of lasting change. Events come and go in a life, and it is how people respond to those events that actually lead to change or not.

From what I’ve seen, the most common event in a person’s life is a moment of discord — a moment where something that someone thought, believed, or knew as an absolute truth gets challenged. In fiction this might be something as big as aliens landing on Earth, or a character seeing a ghost. In real life the moments tend to be smaller and much more frequent, like hearing a story that surprises you about your friend, or meeting someone from a group you were sure you knew everything about and discovering they are nothing like you imagined they would be.

With every moment of discord comes a choice — either a person can double down on what they thought they knew to be true, or embrace the discomfort and move to change. Often, in fiction, it takes several beats and/or chapters to get from an inciting incident to the thing that locks the character into the plot and toward the course of change. Even in fiction, we recognize the human need to resist change, to cling to old ideas or ways of being. We deny the ghosts in front of our eyes, the aliens walking down the street, or even the possibility that our long-held view of the world could be anything but right and true. It takes  more discord, more discomfort to lodge us from the path we were already walking and lead us toward something new.

Some people never lock in to their action, never embrace the change. They stay constant in how they act, in how they see the world, regardless of what events unfold in front of them. They likely don’t make very good protagonists, since their arcs look more like straight lines.

I don’t see many of those types in therapy, since the act of going to a therapist is about actively seeking some sort of change. But even if people want to change, it doesn’t mean they don’t resist it. There are barriers, there is push back, there are relapses and setbacks. In a story, this is the series of conflicts that creates tension while driving the story forward. In real life, these are the things that drive people crazy.

Change in a story comes at exactly the point the author needs it to come so that there is some sort of resolution. Change in a life is a process that may or may not have a definitive end. Both types of change take commitment, time, and perspective.

So what makes a person change? I’m still not sure. Lives are scattered with inciting incidents and moments of discord nearly every day. Events don’t change people — people change themselves.

In the end I think it comes back to my favorite social work joke: how many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?

One, but the light bulb has to want to change.

Everything else is just the story of how.

 

*Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang on December 6th, 2016. 

When Gratitude Isn’t Easy

The common wisdom is that a daily practice of gratitude is not only good for the soul, it is also good for your mental health. As a therapist, I often help my clients focus on the positive in their life, and on their own strengths. Strengths-focus is the heart of Positive Psychology, “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive psychology wanted to find a way to help people “to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.” He found it in practices of strength-based focus on positivity.

I am a huge fan (and amateur practitioner of) positive psychology, so I get all the health benefits of gratitude. But lately, I have found gratitude to be particularly challenging — I am having a hard time staying focused on what is good.

Right now, there is a lot of hurt in the world. Here in the US, we have water protectors at Standing Rock getting hosed down in freezing water, and the Southern Poverty Law Center reporting a high number of incidents of hate crimes since the Presidential Election. My clinical clients are struggling — some have been targeted by hate crimes themselves and most are afraid of what will happen next. Plus, there is still a lot of bad things happening outside our country, the most recent being yet another huge natural disaster in Japan (BIG earthquake). In the midst of all these horrible things, how do you stay focused on the strengths? How do you continue to practice gratitude?

I want to remind people that gratitude is not an absolute feeling. It’s not something that requires that you feel it, and only it. Gratitude is an “and”, not a “but”. There are horrible things happening in the world, “and” I am thankful that most of the people I love are safe and sound. There is a lot of fear and hate floating around, and I am grateful that people are still able to come together under the umbrella of love. The “and” is not trying to eliminate, or even counter, everything that comes before. Gratitude is not about balance — some things are so horrible a simple expression of thankfullness could never even begin to counter them. Gratitude is a practice of opening up all the parts of us that are afraid, sad, and overwhelmed just enough to let some of the good in — and some of the good out. It is the the thing that lets us keep the words of Mr. Rogers in mind:

Gratitude reminds us that we are strong — is the very act of focusing on strengths. It says, life is hard, and I am capable enough, talented enough, and brave enough to handle it. Life is hard, and it is beautiful, and worth living.

It is when gratitude is the hardest to find that we most need to look for it, to look for the “and” as a way to help bolster us against everything that comes before. This Thanksgiving I will be far away from family, and still reeling from the events of the last few weeks, and still worried about the future. And I will be with friends, will be eating bountiful food in relative safety, and will be able to find moments of laughter to share. Life is never just one thing. This year, I am grateful for “and.”

*     *     *

Originally published on The Stiletto Gang on November 22nd, 2016.

When You’re Busy Making Other Plans

There is this saying:

 

For most people, the shape of that life can be found in their daily routines, the tiny habits that carry us from waking up to going to sleep. Routines are seen as either amazing and wonderful, or soul-sucking and dreadful.

I am someone who has always resisted a routine. I wanted each day to look different than the one before it.  I wanted spontaneity and that sense that anything could happen. And yet, I fell into a routine anyway, because that is the nature of life. Work and school and other external structures shape our days, forcing us to wake up at certain times, which forces us to go to bed at certain times. The space in between carries all the usual things — taking showers, eating meals, doing chores, walking the same familiar paths of each day.

Moving to NY from LA, there were certain routines that made me feel safer. I began to go to the same places over and over again, and countered my fear of being alone in a new city by becoming a regular. There is a pub in midtown where they not only know my name, they know my order, and at least as much about my life as a casual social media friend. There is comfort in that, comfort in the familiar, in the steady rhythms of the day-to-day. Routine is just being a regular in your own life.

What I have come to learn as I’ve gotten older is that routines happen whether we consciously form them or not. And in fact, consciously forming them (or changing them) is actually really hard. Now that I have a new job, many of my old routines have been forced to change, and I’ve been in this weird in bet

ween space where I haven’t figured out the new ones yet. I keep hoping this will be a great chance to shape how each day will look with more consideration than my days before. I want to add healthier habits to my routine and break away from some older, less desirable ones. I want to take my lunch every day, and do laundry more than on a “now we really are out of clothes to wear” basis. When my friends joke about not being able to adult anymore, I really feel like what we’re saying is that the routines of life can be overwhelming. The laundry always needs to get done. The dishes always need to be washed.

And if you’re a writer, that next project is always going to be in need of more work — writing, editing, planning, marketing. Work only gets done through the careful application of regular effort. Or it doesn’t get done, because your routine doesn’t include that particular effort.

No one wants to feel like each day looks just like the last. But I think that sometimes my own resistance to that is actually doing me more harm than good. Each day DOES look like the last, because it turns out spontaneity takes its own kind of effort (and that I’m really more of a plan-ahead girl). Weeks get defined by regularly weekly activities — taking out the garbage, watching a particular weekly show, that family member that calls every Sunday, like clockwork.

I am hoping that I will be able to actually use this external change of a new job to help me build a new and improved routine. The thing about things moving along like clock work is that they move along. If you want the gears to keep grinding, you need to give them a familiar path around the wheel.

*Originally published on The Stiletto Gang blog on September 20th, 2016.

The Perfect Soundtrack

Living in New York City, headphones are a necessity. They not only help you pass the time on long commutes, providing your own soundtrack protects you from the more…natural soundtrack of life in the city. I like an up beat while walking to work, something that quickens my pace to keep time to it. Mellow music makes a bus ride home nice and reflective.

Progress notes, the bane of every social worker’s existence, are made tolerable by a lovely oldies playlist I can sing along to. Even housecleaning, a chore I have loathed since childhood, can be gotten through best with a good music mix.

And there is not a single novel, story, or even blog post I haven’t gotten through without a playlist. In fact, my first novel, Perfect Likeness, pulled heavily from the music I was listening to as I wrote it. Sometimes, finding the perfect song can make or break the chapter I am working on. If I want to write something fast-paced and action filled, heavy bass and little words helps me find the right flow to move the scene along. Songs that make me sad help me get in the right head space for those moments in a story where I need to go deep.

Music is the only actual cure I know for writer’s block (besides not leaving the blank page until there is something, however bad you may think it is, on it). I have been known to put down a song lyric as a starting point, a way to get the creative juices flowing. In fact, some stories owe their existence to a lyric I couldn’t get out of my head.

I used to collect soundtracks, back when people would still buy CDs. I loved them because they were carefully curated playlists that helped move a greater story along. Some of my favorite movies are also my favorite soundtracks: Dirty Dancing, O Brother Where Art Thou, Singles, Forest Gump — just to name a few. Without their soundtracks, those movies wouldn’t even exist, and certainly not stand out in our minds the way they do.

Books don’t come with their own soundtracks, though I often think they should (if the copyright issues could be worked out). If you had to pick songs to go with the book you are currently writing or reading, what would they be?

*Originally published on The Stiletto Gang blog on July 19th, 2016.

Winging It

Earlier this month, fellow Stiletto Gang author Bethany Maines posted a great blog about how she organizes her novels using spreadsheets and graphs — all online! I was super impressed. And then intimidated. Because my organization of a novel looks a lot more like this:

IMG_8743I do start out trying to be super organized. I spend a lot of time procrastinating…er…pre-writing by creating elaborate systems and files that some part of me knows I will never maintain. I understand that that the more up-front work I do, the less back-end work I’ll have to do. And yet, inevitably, at some point during a writing project I find myself digging through various notebooks and poorly named Word files, trying to find that one piece of information I need to complete whatever section I’m working on. I have to scan first drafts specifically for continuity errors (like the spelling of a name), and if it wasn’t for eagle-eyed readers and editors, I’d miss small changes I made in even basic descriptions (did that room have a brown leather chair or a burgundy leather chair?). I don’t even remember to put all my notes about the same story in the same notebook.

vader organization Of course, come revision time, I then I have to backtrack and do all the work that I maybe shoulda coulda woulda done in the pre-writing process. I create a reverse outline of my chapters and sections. I make a style sheet and finally decide on a single spelling of a name (the search and replace feature in Word is very much my friend). Changes are always intentionally planned. I invest heavily in the revision process, and the story can change dramatically from draft to draft.I also only ever make it half-way through a novel outline before the drafting process takes over, and characters and plots move in totally different directions. It’s a little bit because I find outlines kind of boring, and a little bit more that if I get too detailed and figure out how it will all end, I lose interest. Generally, I never start with more than a vague sense of where I want to end up, and I find drafting it out so much more satisfying. And yet I know that an outline would probably make the entire process a lot less messy — and faster — if maybe not as spontaneous.

In many ways, starting off by winging it and then going back and organizing what I’ve written lets me discover the story in two different ways — as I write it, and after I go back and read what I’ve written. That process of discovery keeps me interested in the story, even if it is very labor intensive.

Still, I can’t help but look at the ways other writers organize themselves and wistfully daydream about my own set of spread sheets and graphs. Sometimes though, I’d settle for remembering exactly where I put that really great breakdown of the third act I thought of while on the bus two months ago. All I have to do is figure out what notebook I had with me that day…

all the things

 

Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang blog on April 19, 2016. 

Art and the Political

There is some pretty good advice that floats around the Internet that says that fiction writers should refrain from engaging in political debates, and certainly refrain from posting blogs about their own political beliefs. The idea is that writers should strive to remain neutral so as not to take away from the fictional worlds they create (and also not to deter readers who might not agree with them from buying their books). And yet, there is an equal idea that art is inherently political, that our own politics and beliefs are not only reflected in the art we create, but should be, because we owe it to readers to speak our own truths.

In the United States, it is an election year. Politics are everywhere these days — in the news, on social media, at holiday dinners with family members you are not actually convinced you are related to, and in random conversations between eclectically dressed strangers at the store. Everyone has an opinion. Actually, they have lots of opinions, and links, and memes, and sound bites, and graphs, and polls, and when will this election be over already?

The thing is, as a writer, I also have opinions. Lots of opinions, actually. Tons and tons of opinions I would like to share with people in lovely (and hopefully well written) paragraphs and blogs.
I am trying to resist the urge. For one thing, engaging in political conversations on the Internet has never actually led anyone I have argued with to actually agree with me. Humans are hard wired to actually actively ignore information that doesn’t match what they already think thanks to confirmation bias:
And while there is also a valid argument in the fact that not only is arguing on the Internet a waste of time but is also yet another way of avoiding the kind of writing I should be doing, I do think there is some value in engaging in online discussions to some degree. But online discussions have a way of devolving into drawn out battles where each side is more determined to win than to actually consider another opinion.
Over the past few days, I have been finding myself posting more and more political things and engaging more and more with other people about the things they have been posting. All it ever really gets me is a rise in my blood pressure and an uneasy feeling that Somebody is wrong  (and the even more unsettling feeling that that Somebody could very well be me). There is also this feeling that maybe I am putting too much of my political self out there, that this goes against what I should be doing to brand myself as a mostly-likeable-and-non-controversial author. Is that a standard I should even be striving for? How much politics is too much?
And in the end, if art really is political, should I be saving my political views for my fiction (however subtly or overtly they come across)?
What do other’s think? How do you handle art and politics?
Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang blog on March 15, 2016. 

A Villain’s Voice

For my inaugural blog on The Stiletto Gang, I wanted to make a good first impression. And then I found out on the day I was going to post my first ever Stiletto blog that I had read the instructions wrong (mixing up AM and PM in the time I was supposed to post) and that I had already messed things up.

So much for good impressions.
I’m going to go ahead and blame this on the fact that lately I have been writing a lot of villains.
 In fact, I have been writing them in first person, which means I have been spending a lot of time trying to sound, well, horrible. And it has been surprisingly easy.

See, here’s the thing —  your classic villain has really simple wants and desires. There really isn’t too much to complicate wanting to take over the world, or on a smaller scale, take all the power. They have a very clear idea of where they are in the universe — they are the ones who get what they want (or should, and will go to any lengths to do so). Heroes often have to be coaxed into action through some sort of inciting incident, but a villain is very self motivated.

Your typical bad guy has it all planned out and knows exactly what they want to do next. In fact, taking advice from a writing teacher from undergrad, I often think of stories from the villain’s perspective first, since they usually have the more elaborate plans than the heroes do. After all, they are the ones that take the actions that the heroes have to respond to.

 

Finally, villains get to be, well, funny. And mean. This is where sometimes I feel like maybe I am a horrible person, because getting into the head space of a terrible person and letting all that pent up anger and frustration out just feels so…good.
There is a reason why many actors say that playing bad guys is more fun. It’s cathartic to get in touch with your own dark side. The more evil the villain, the easier it is to slide into that space for me, to contemplate a world where my character is at the center of it and doesn’t have to think about anyone else. There is no grey area, only clear black and white, a necessary oversimplification that lets my character feel free to to the horrible things he or she does. I believe it was Jeremy Irons who said that the trick to playing bad guys is that they never actually think of themselves as bad — they are always the heroes in their own stories. They are just heroes with most, if not all, the moral ambiguity stripped away.
As much fun as it can be to slip inside the head of a true bad guy, the best part about writing villains is that eventually I get to make sure they get what they deserve. Maybe that is where the true catharsis comes in, finding a way to create some small measure of justice in a fictional world, when so often it seems to be lacking in the real world. So, here’s to all the great villains: may they get what they have coming to them.
Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang blog on February 16, 2016. 

Work-Life Balance

Dear Readers,

When I first started this particular version of my blog, I had such high hopes of making and keeping to a regular posting schedule. The more time that passed from my last blog post, the more guilt I felt, and the harder it was to come up with a topic to write about. Every sentence I typed felt like it sucked, and I developed a keen sense of self-consciousness that no one wanted to hear anything that I had to say anyway.

I work in a very demanding profession, and the past several months have been brutal for me. I have some new very complicated cases that are stretching my capabilities to their breaking points. I am behind on paperwork, which while being a constant, makes me feel like any time spent writing should be spent writing progress notes. I am feeling very burned out, in general.

During the past several months I also had to go through and edit my book after it came back from the editor, and while I started the process feeling optimistic and excited, I quickly found myself drowning in doubt in that area as well. What had I written? Why would I think anyone would want to read it?

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I suffer from depression, and that my symptoms are easily triggered whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, when I feel things starting to slip away from me. In the last months, I took on a second job, and a time-consuming volunteer opportunity — along with the challenging cases and the book edits — and it was way more than I could chew. I became very symptomatic, which meant I spent more energy avoiding things than doing things.

So how do you come back from that and be like, hi! I’m blogging again! Hope you keep reading! Do you acknowledge the lapse or ignore it and hope everyone else does too? Do you talk about your depression? Do you talk about how being a part-time writer with a full-time job is super challenging? I somehow doubt that’s the way to connect with fans and sell books. And yet…

Hi! I’m blogging again! I am going to a cider festival this weekend, of which I will be writing a review. I want to talk about the exciting things other authors in the Blue Zephyr Press group are doing. I want to say that my book cover is almost done and I can’t wait to share it with everyone once the final touches are done. I want to talk about other cool book-related things and life related things. And I will!

But first I wanted to write this: writing of any kind is a practice in vulnerability. I have spent enough time in my past life as a marketing person and public relations executive to know that a public image is something that should be carefully cultivated and maintained. There isn’t a lot of room in that cultivation for genuine vulnerability. But I think it is my fear of being vulnerable in this space that is holding me back from the very thing I want to do as a writer — connect with readers. So in the name of vulnerability and connection, I can’t just start this blog up again without any explanation of why it has been months since my last post.

And the explanation is this: a work-life (or sometimes, work and other-more-creative-work) balance is very hard to maintain. I am working on doing a better job with that balance, and I hope you follow along my journey as I do.

Till next week!

–Jennae

 

 

Why I’m Not Saying Goodbye To All That

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my  finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was. – Joan Didion, Goodbye To All That

The first time I came to New York, it was with a friend who was getting her book published. She came out to the city to meet with “the book people”, as she collectively called them, in person. Her agent took us out to a fancy lunch (my going on the lunch was something my friend finagled for me) and while she went and had an official meeting even she couldn’t get me into, I took myself to see the Chelsea Hotel. Awed and humbled by the history, the symbolism, the raw and dark artistic hope, I daydreamed about a time when I would have my own “book people” and my own romantic return to New York as a published author.

When I moved to New York 4 years later, it was not as a writer or an author, but as a student embarking on a career that seemed like it would take me far away from that daydream. Still, I couldn’t escape the feeling of awe and wonder that I would have the privilege of living in one of the greatest cities in the world.

I was living in Los Angeles, a city I was born in and in which I had spent many formative years. LA has its own romantic reputation as a city where dreams come true and stars are born. In fact, the two cities are often compared and contrasted for just that reason — these are cities full of those in the hungry professions, the artists and actors and musicians and writers starving (in more ways than one) to make it. Coming from one city full of wonders and moving to another, you might think I would be immune to the thrill of walking down Broadway, or staring up at the Empire State Building. Didn’t I have Hollywood Boulevard and the Griffith Observatory? Hadn’t I regularly gazed up at the Hollywood sign, enjoyed the sights and sounds of Olvera Street, toured Hollyhock House? But it was the city I knew, and I had grown immune to its charms, while New York’s were still waiting to be discovered. And I wanted to discover them all.

Then this winter, two of my dearest New York friends made a plan to move to Los Angeles. Suddenly all I heard around me were stories of people leaving the Big Apple, people fed up with the high rents, the never-ending winters, the MTA fare hikes, and the general grittiness. Joan Didion’s essay came up again and again, naturally, as she wrote so honestly about her own love affair with New York, and her eventual realization it was time to leave. Transplants to the city, she wrote, never truly felt they belonged: everyone who came to New York from the West and the South always feel like they are living on borrowed time, waiting for the right moment to go home.

Every year since moving here I have asked myself if this is perhaps my last year. My last winter, my last Christmas, my last Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, my last exhibit at the Guggenheim, my last debate about whether or not it would be worth it to line up for free Shakespeare in the Park (which I still have never quite been able to make myself do). Once I have gotten past the feeling that I just can’t take one more snowfall or deal with one more fellow train passenger who believes they are the only person who deserves space, I find that little voice inside myself that says “not yet.”

Here is where I no longer connect to Didion’s essay: I didn’t spend my 20s in New York. I didn’t come to be an artist or spend time with them. I bought furniture, put up shelves, settled in. Work shapes my days and weeks and leaves little room for parties you stay too long at, or afternoons spent drinking until you feel better. At some point during the last five years, I stopped thinking of myself as a tourist, and when I go visit other spaces, I feel this longing for the conversational comfort of my tree-lined Brooklyn street.

And somehow, in the corners of my routines, I found space for writing again: before-work writing, lunch-break writing, afternoons in a pub writing, staying up too late writing, writing grounded in effort and escape, persistence and pleasure, brilliance and balance. I traded daydream for action, naive optimism for optimism subsumed in a work ethic that fills the trains and buses I take every day and moves throngs in that mad rush that amazes tourists and baffles anyone longing for a quieter life. I like my life noisy. I like it just slightly rushed — it makes me appreciate those moments of quiet stillness in a way I never could before.

For now, I am staying in New York (not that the city cares much, one way or another), and listening to the voice that says “not yet.” I’m investing in a new pair of snow boots, and learning to accept high rent for small spaces. I still feel privileged to live here. I know next year I will again talk to myself about how long, really, I have left in the city. But I also wonder if there might be a point when the conversation will change from “is it time to leave New York and go back home?” to “is it time to admit you are home?”

Is the narrative of New York that people always leave it? Or is there a counter narrative, an anti-Didion essay that declares not that New York fails to deliver on the promises of “an infinitely romantic notion”, but that it refuses to be an object of “the shining and perishable dream itself” and instead must always assert its own imperfections blatantly and honestly and dare you to love it anyway. Or not. I’m not sure the city requires love; it is a city known best for its indifference and read as cold, but who I always think of as a very old and wise teacher sitting in the back of the room and looking on as you learn your lessons. Maybe people leave New York when they have learned everything the city is able to teach them. Maybe people leave New York because they are ready for new lessons, lessons taught in LA’s sunshine, Austin’s creativity, or Seattle’s pragmatism.

Me — I still have a lot to learn about New York, and from it. But I will miss my friends when they move to the Coast.