Escape Artist Me
Once upon a time I rode a horse, and then a plane, and then a train. I was fleeing my former habitation and needed to do so by several different means. Those fierce enemies I was compelled to outwit and outrun were both clever and brash, and it was all I could do to stand against them, but I have a fighting spirit. I’m glad to say, it prevailed.
I arrived relatively unscathed in New York City, the land of autonomy. Sadly, autonomy only works for people who trust themselves, and I don’t. I have outrun many a foe, but it’s me that I’m really trying to elude. It’s hard enough to get away from others, but it takes particular planning and route-devising to escape oneself.
I came here in the first place because I needed to escape, and in fact, I’m still escaping every day. The train is the last means of transport I mentioned because it is the way I continue to devise my daily getaways. Each morning at precisely 7:15AM I leave my Brooklyn apartment to walk 1 ½ blocks to the train. Thirty minutes later I arrive at the Lexington Ave. 77th St. station and begin my five-minute westward walk to arrive at my library by nearly 7:50AM, depending on the reliability of the train’s schedule, not mine.
I may give the impression that I am merely heading to work in a very old library for young scholars, but actually, I am a hopeless runaway. It’s compulsive. I run and get lost and recover myself only to keep trying to get lost again.
I find I am only really happy during those brief moments of unbridled athleticism and acrobatics when I can’t find me anywhere in sight, and I finally have room to see others, to take in the ideas and joys and concerns other people express in their intense old-man conversations, Peruvian flute street music, paper-cut silhouette art, or sidewalk break-dancing. I am suddenly wide enough to hold it all and let the vibrations they cause rattle me down to the soles of my shoes. It always has made the back of my neck tingle when that happens: those moments when I’m gone.
But there are other moments when I feel incredibly locked in and bolted down, unable to defy gravity. I get stuck rehearsing all my disappointments with different failed enterprises, and I think, “God! Why is it so easy for everyone to suck up mediocrity and label it glamour?”
I feel the weight of all I’ve tried to practice at and shine and exude. Then, under that heaviness, I crouch low and whine, “what is the point of learning difficult things when it’s not what people care about because it’s so much less snazzy than rap stars and iPhone apps and American Apparel and TV talent competitions?” And I’m left wondering why I suddenly really feel the need to change my hair and wear skinnier jeans.
I didn’t arrive here empty handed and expect the city to deliver happiness into my lap. I really worked at finding something to legitimize my self-expression—to trick myself into thinking there really is such a thing in the first place. I have a Master’s degree and I’m still in my twenties. Does that make me ahead of the game? Not anymore? Well am I at least in the game? Barely? Well that explains why I’m so out of breath.
I walk past a shabby but bustling bakery and think, “I could do that. I could be really good at baking delicious morsels to titillate the masses during every breakfast rush and lunch break.” Would that be a fulfilling use of my gifts? Well I would re-decorate for one thing. This shop on the corner of Lex is less than eye-catching. It needs more blues and softer assorted materials draping its windows instead of stark maroon polyester.
Now listen to me. I’m talking and thinking like a true artisan decorator. Well after all, interior design was my first imagined vocation when asked during those elementary school “career days.” Maybe my MA would lend sufficient credibility if I tried to land a job with a design magazine. That way, I could help rich people bolster and defend their aesthetic sensibilities, and—I’d hate myself.
Well hoodiddily, now that I’ve passed the bakery and am approaching the garden nursery, I don’t care so much anymore anyway.
I’ve moved on to plants, yet another interest, maybe even passion of mine (mind you, “passion” is a word I throw around far too liberally). I am living in the city, but my time in more rural settings fostered my familiarity and folkloric “expertise” on plant varieties and habitats. Could I possibly lend a hand amid the cool foliage hanging under the awning? Maybe dawn an apron and duck around misting branches and dusting leaves till they glisten with a tropic luster? I would be good at it. Like baking. So why not?
The fact is, I am a misfit librarian determined not to be boxed in by a singular career. Which helps explain why, in the afternoons, I give part of my time to helping children with crafty pursuits like crochet and knitting. So to top it all off, should my evenings be spent pruning?
By the time I arrive at the library, my head is jammed full of just what I despise, and what I planned to flee from all morning: my ego. I am overloading my brain with a ridiculous heap of eventualities that have no bearing on making this particular day real, tangible, and gratifying.
Instead, I mindlessly plow through people at the crosswalk, and I am cross. And look, see? I am making them cross too. We are all cross with each other as we cross in front of the cross taxi drivers carrying the cross people across town. And we all sigh audibly and clench our fists because we can’t think of anything worse than each other. As long as I fail to break out and escape myself, I see everybody through the bars of my own cage, and all I can do is grrrrowl at them all.
But now listen. I’m standing still on the far corner, and here comes the wind, and there is the child laughing while her skirt and pigtails billow, and there are the tiny pink flowers planted in the Park Ave. median for nobody in particular. And I can see myself shrinking down to the size of the butterfly hovering over those tiny pink flowers. And my self is so tiny I could fit on that butterfly’s back, and let the wind catch us, and there we go, up above the apartment windows, and no matter how hard you squint against the morning sun, you can’t quite make us out because we are gone.