Walking on Saint Nicolas towards the bank on 125th Street this morning. I hear a man say, under his breath, “I’m sick of this gentrification shit!” This is obviously directed at me, and it makes me feel terrible. I want to stop him and say “Hey, I can’t afford to buy a new condo in Harlem, either! I don’t represent whatever group it is you fear will displace you.” But maybe I do, with my white face peeking out from underneath this ridiculous hat — a big fluffy looking tower of fake fur. If I’m in the wrong place (and by the way, I’m not saying I’m in the wrong place — I’ve met many people in my neighborhood who’ve become friends. I’ve been welcomed to my block like I’ve never been welcomed anywhere), then where is it I’m supposed to be? I don’t belong to the baby carriage set or the students rushing across Morningside Park to Columbia.
Friends say, “Move to Brooklyn.” But if I did, would I feel at home? I’ve looked in Brooklyn many times, when considering a move, and it’s very nice, but I don’t feel at home in Brooklyn. I’m a New Yorker. I’ve lived in every neighborhood in Manhattan. I love Central Park and getting around by subway. I know all the lines. I know the whole city well. I don’t know Brooklyn. Would it feel like home if I moved to Brooklyn? Would I find all the hidden people who are like me? I like Queens. My parents were born in Queens. I was born in Queens, in fact. Would I find all the people like me in Queens? And who are the people like me? How much like anyone is anyone? How do I find this group to which I’d belong?
I might belong best to the group who feels they belong to no group. But even that group would probably seem too radical, or exclusive.
Love has made me feel like I belong. Briefly and on occasion to the “we” that love makes.
Certain friendships, long-lasting, with shared experiences make the world make sense. I belong to my friends and they to me.
Doe belongs to me. The cats are mine. We are a family of sorts. But, of course that makes me a crazy cat lady with a dog! I don’t want to belong to this maligned group.
I’m a musician. I have a special relationship to music and other people who make it. But we are spread out and washed away by the new economy and the demise of the music business. We teach in universities far away. We live in the woods. We make music for ourselves. Or we’ve stopped making music because it’s too hard.
Maybe I should have told the guy on the street this morning that I’m a musician and that Harlem has long been home to musicians like me, or maybe not so much like me, but musicians. Yes. Would he have backed down? Would he have seen me differently?
I had another impulse for some mysterious reason. I wanted to tell him that my father had died this year. Maybe because it’s true and I feel so affected by my father’s death, but also because maybe he could identify with having a father, with losing a loved one. Loss is something we all share.
After I had that thought, I thought about how dark my thoughts get. But then I noticed the way the sun was shining so brightly today. I looked down at the deep puddles and felt happy for my big waterproof boots.
Human feeling, of all kinds, is what we share, and puddles and snow and fathers and music.