Life turns out to be a collage. I used to have tremendous difficulty switching gears, closing doors, saying goodbye, walking into the next room. Interruptions were unbearable, holding onto relationships wearying. A life of not feeling a part of. We call it being compartmentalized. I couldn't merge my diverse parts of myself and would inhabit them one at a time, needing a break to be alone before moving from one to another. Not so unusual really. I'm sure some readers can relate to this phenomenon. It's a learned behavior. It makes for a very uncomfortable existence.
Then I started to make collages, both artistically and intra-psychically. To decide how the pieces make sense, how they layer upon one another, how they work to make a whole. Most importantly, how small pieces become part of a larger fabric. The gradual process of self-integration, starting in my fifties, has finally become a new normal. I carry my portable self with me wherever I go now.
The collage shown here is only a portion of a much larger one I made for my son, to portray his birth journey. He was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1969, during an overland trek across Europe and into India and Nepal. My current project is to take all the bits and pieces, papers and pictures I have strewn in boxes and piles around my life and make collages of them, not leave them behind in tiny compartments that no one can make sense of. Life turns out to be a collage. Make it so.
I will be in the city from 8/10-8/14. Hope to see you there!
I lived in a 5th floor walk-up on First Ave and First Street in the East Village from 1989-2006, the longest I've lived at any one address before or since. At the time, I thought I would stay in the city forever, thinking it would be a good place to grow old, having everything one might need in a 4-block radius and the best restaurants and public transportation you can get anywhere. I left when I was evicted from my rent-stabilized apartment, having sublet it to a homeless friend, while I spent a year in an isolated cabin in Pennsylvania. I know I'll never be able to afford to move back to the city, and while that doesn't make me sad, it does make me angry.
I remember the summer heat in the city, the smells of garbage and urine on the streets, and the delight we took when the city cleared out and seemed, to uber-urban dwellers, almost empty. Actually, I remember all four seasons in the city vividly, how snow would stop everything and go from lovely white fluff to filthy piles of ice in the street overnight; how urban flowers seemed all the more gorgeous for their captivity; how the fall relieved the summer heat and made me feel hopeful again. I remember the 6-month breakdown I had, when for the first time in my adult life I couldn't work, and how I sat in my sweltering apartment without air-conditioning, speaking to almost no one, and wrote a novel.
In contrast, I now live in a small rural town on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State with our two seasons, rainy for 10 months and sunny for 10 weeks. It's quiet, clean and stunningly beautiful. In NYC I completed graduate school, worked for 6 years in the South Bronx providing primary care to people with HIV, was involved in ACT UP and lesbian health, and had (for me) an active social life. In Sequim, I basically live as a hermit, although I still work as a nurse practitioner and still do volunteer work with Compassion and Choices, a statewide advocacy group for the death with dignity law that we have in Washington State. It is because of this law that I now think I will spend the rest of my days here, the option of having some control over my end-of-life choices means a lot to me.
My family and friends are all spread out over the East Coast from Maine to Miami. In the summer my family gathers at the Jersey Shore for a week of just hanging out and relaxing, enjoying each others' company. Since I've moved out to the west coast, on my way to the beach, I usually spend some time in NYC. This year I'll be in the city from 8/10-8/14. I hope to see old friends and old haunts. I hope the memories that will undoubtedly arise while I am there will be bittersweet .