Monday, August 18, 2008

Country Mouse or City Mouse?

I have been quite lax in regard to blogging lately because I am in the midst of moving; the lease on my apartment is up on August 31st.  For the past few weeks, I have been packing and looking for an apartment, two of my least favorite activities.  I don’t have a lot of extra money and, truthfully, I could have saved better since last summer, but I like my overpriced protein bars, and I needed new work clothes, and I wanted to throw myself a Book Party, and there were a handful of new CDs to buy this year, followed by concert tickets.

 I live in New York City.  I work in New York City.  I love New York City.  So for about $1,100 a month, I could have lived in a studio in Washington Heights or Inwood.  I originally thought I could find a one-bedroom apartment in East Harlem, the last affordable neighborhood below 125th Street, but that did not happen.  I looked at a few apartments in West Harlem, but since West Harlem is now uber-cool, I can’t afford an apartment roomier than 8x12 feet.  I am not willing to subject myself, or my ten-year old dog, to life in an 8x12 box.  I am 35—I don’t want to put half my belongings in storage, even if it means a fifteen-minute commute to work.

 I had nothing against Washington Heights; in fact, I am not familiar with most of it (I’ve never been to The Cloisters; I know, I’m a lame New Yorker).  I even know a few people who live there and love it.  The first problem is that I work in the South Bronx, which is kind of parallel to Washington Heights but separated by the Harlem River.  The second problem is that the #2 and #5 trains run near work/campus, and the #1 and A/C trains run through Washington Heights.  Unless I took a bus (prone to traffic issues), I would have to take the local #1 (i.e., slow) train to 96th Street and then transfer to the #2 train heading back uptown through the Bronx.  This would take much longer than 30 minutes, and I was trying to decrease my commute by at least that much (my 65-minute commute from Queens to the South Bronx has undoubtedly shaved at least a year off my life!).

The third problem is that although I can afford to live in Washington Heights, I would not be able to live in a spacious, doorman-secure, recently renovated one-bedroom apartment.  I would be spending a ton of money and time, yet still stacking my books to the ceiling and using space-conserving hangers and storing off-season clothes in odd places—all for the privilege of living in New York City.

After a particularly annoying and exhausting day of looking at apartments, I collapsed on my treasured Tempurpedic and reminisced about my house in Hampton Bays.  I realized I loved living in the Hamptons not only because I slept five minutes from the beach, or stargazed on a nightly basis, or read/wrote every day.  Much of what I loved about my three years on the East End revolved around my house: I could host a dinner party for more than three people; I could leave laundry in the dryer overnight; I could sing and dance to loud music whenever I felt like it; my dog had room to run around in silly circles; and I could live in the same place as all my books and all my clothes!  The daily writing cannot be discounted or underrated; I don’t feel inspired, and I lack motivation, in Queens. I don’t get much writing done in Queens—I’m not sure if it’s my dreadful subway commute to/from work, or the dirty sidewalks near my apartment, or the rude people who stare at/run away from my dog as if she’s the Chupacabra.  Part of it might be, I admit, my full-time teaching and advising schedule, not to mention committee work, hiring new adjunct instructors and departmental administrative work, all of which are typical of full-time teaching positions.  Yet I love my job, and many writers teach and write.  My students, and the literature we discuss, do stimulate my creativity, but by the time I arrive home, to a neighborhood I dislike, I lack the energy to engage with anything other than The Discovery Channel (or my new favorite, Nat Geo).  I’m beginning to think my ability to create fiction is tied to my geographical location, and thus my overall contentment.

 So does that mean I am a country mouse rather than a city mouse?  I used to think I would be one of those lifelong New Yorkers, like Woody Allen or Nora Ephron.  And definitely would be, if I could afford to live where (and the way) they live (neither stands around for fifteen minutes, sweating profusely, three levels below the street, waiting for the R subway at 59th Street).  I have recently realized, however, that I can spend thirty, forty or even fifty minutes on Metro-North, the same $1,100 on rent, and live in a one- (or even two!) bedroom house, with a washer/dryer, fresh air and visible stars in the sky at night!  Commuting by Metro-North (the train) is vastly better than commuting by MTA (subway); the former is more comfortable and runs on an actual timetable.  I would still need the useful but aggravating subway, but only for two stops.

So…starting in September, I will be living outside the city, in a rented house surrounded by trees, grass, bugs and who knows what else.  It will no doubt take me a few weeks (months?) to acclimate to the darkness, and the silence, of the suburbs, but I plan to use both to inspire and motivate my next novel. I’m giving myself ten months to write the first draft of my next novel.  And I’m so excited to begin a new book, and a new chapter of my life (pun intended) in a beautiful, woodsy refuge!