December 21: Look: Sometimes you are left standing on the outside looking in. As you stood there, on the other side of the glass, were you thankful for the boundary? Or do you wish you could’ve been on the action-side?
I was reading that piece in the New Yorker on zombie art when I went to write this (which I’d link you to, but it’s one of the few articles that can only be accessed with a subscription). It reminded me about a conversation I had with a colleague once — she is about a decade younger than I am.
The zombie art piece is about what happens to art after it is declared a “total loss” — as if a Matisse or something could be like the Honda Civic my brother used to own. Found stripped and charred in Van Nuys, the car was lost during his meth head days. The New Yorker article and thus the art-as-Honda was relevant in these post-Hurricane Sandy; post-apocalyptic End Times in which we are living because New York’s galleries are mostly in Chelsea, and so, for a time, was the Hudson. The article went on to detail the tale of a professor at Columbia who was putting on a show of the damaged pieces — as if to demonstrate the value of something that had been declared to be without value.
Anyway, it reminded my of the conversation with my colleague because she’d once been educating me on the coolness of living downtown. And how even with its dystopian challenges, it really hadn’t been all that bad living without power and water and the modern hygiene or convenience because downtown was just so cool.
Our office is mind-meltingly modern and cool — all glass and metal and even, I think some (literally) zombie art (I mean, art made by, for, or featuring zombies). As she spoke, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in one of the glass walls; my long, blonde, uptown hair on my shoulders.
I smiled coldly. I lived downtown for four years. Tribeca.
Oh. Why’d you move?
I got divorced.
And that was that.
The reasons were infinitely more complex than that. And then again, not. I was simply an Uptown Girl in my head and in my heart, and I had wanted to see if my idealised self actually existed.
For the record, she did.
More than that, though, I had been seeking higher ground; stability. In Tribeca, I’d long been treading water; occasionally being sucked under — as a woman; a wife; as a professional. Where as a kid, the water had soothed my soul and I’d always rushed to it for solace, downtown, it had been treacherous.
But Upper Manhattan was built into the bedrock.
You can tell, now, if you live on or near Second Avenue — you can hear the blasting for the subway; hear them digging the tunnels. Slowly; desperately, they’re chipping away. Like they’re trying to dynamite through the Sierras to make the transcontinental railroad.
When the winds and the floods came this Autumn, Uptown stood fast. I say that not to sound smug, it was simply a fact. Being on the outside looking in at the devastation around me was strange. And as a woman who has survived myriad personal traumas, and various situations of unrest, and at least one life-altering natural disaster, it was peculiar to be spared.
So what of the life that clings? What does it mean to endure? From what perspective should I look at these things?
In the article about zombie art, the Columbia University professor putting on the show of dead art said something to the effect of: These works may have no real monetary value now, but they may someday. If we’d junked all the dead Roman art, there’d be nothing in the Met.
Downtown; Uptown; dead; alive.
It is impossible to tell which side of the glass we’re on at any given time, isn’t it?