On the subway today, on the way home from meeting a friend for drinks and dinner after work, I was reading Ulysses—which is taking me over a year to get through—and I’m sitting there on this empty 3 train going all the way from the Upper West Side to Crown Heights in Brooklyn.
And this book is so confusing and weighed down in allusions and the mundane details of everyday life. But every now and then there’s a glimmer of connection and clarity in all of the tense-changing, archaic language and obscure references. I thrust my hand into the black corduroy bag slung over my shoulder and fish around for a pen, scribbling my thoughts in the blank back pages of the book before I can even remove the chewed-up cap with my teeth.
It’s such a shame that everything keeps moving and I don’t have the time—I don’t have the motivation or the patience, I should say—to write about it all. In fact, I’m writing all damn day. Writing about a teeny tiny part of all of the hubbub. I’ve unhinged my creative capacity, flung it into this city, and the seed took in the legal reporting internship that I’ve planted for the summer. It’s incredibly fruitful. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m really, yes really! writing and reporting all day every day. I’m on the phone pestering lawyers about their jobs,
their clients, legal trends and the meaning of what they do. I’m sitting in an office in Lower Manhattan writing about one of the biggest banking scandals in history, and I’m meeting with trustees and consultants and lawyers and professors in Midtown for breakfast and lunch.
I walk into the restaurant to meet with a source for the biggest story I’ll write this summer. It’s my first of these lunches. His suit is nice. He wears a pastel tie and matching handkerchief tucked into his buttonhole, a pin on his lapel. He is kind, and understands why I’m a vegetarian. His daughter is, too. And he loves animals—he owns a ranch. At the end of the interview, he wishes me good luck with the job I’ve applied for and if there’s anything he can do … he fades into the muck of tourists near Times Square as I dodge underground and back downtown to type my notes and file an unrelated web story about the lawyers who work for Jack Daniel’s.
I turned 23 just a week ago. The last month of my life has been a whirlwind of New York City and friends from out of town visiting, which is apparently what happens when you live in the greatest city in the world. Parents visiting, high school friends visiting, college friends visiting, roommate’s college friends visiting, college friends’ friends visiting, grad school
friends visiting, people who I don’t really know how they are connected to me but they came to my house at 4 a.m. with a bunch of amps and instruments – they’re visiting, too. New, dear French friends and parties on my roof. Being called a tourist in my own neighborhood because I’m among a first, sometimes-welcome-but-not-always welcome wave of gentrifying out-of-towners, yoga classes with incredibly good-looking (and Zen!) instructors on Franklin Ave., wonderful neighbors with cats and extra air conditioners, the lady with the foaming mouth pacing back and forth on my block, Webster the really nice camera guy from Haiti not knowing when to stop telling my roommate that he wants “to get to know her, like REALLY get to know her.” Slam poetry, regular poetry, a really real speakeasy, beer gardens, regular gardens, vintage bikes, getting groped (involuntarily) on the subway by a cross-dresser, going to concerts in painted Williamsburg basements and parks and elaborate halls. Intensely poignant conversations with my roommates after waves of these things pass. And the conversations land on: “Julie, you’re an optimist.”
Yes. I am. I’m refusing to let New York break me. But the next day of the week after the wave had finally, beautifully, thankfully passed, a private equity firm delivered me a tough break. I’ll divulge a little more but more importantly I have to say that I have all of these notes everywhere: in my iPhone, on my laptop which I never use anymore, written on the pages of books and papers I’m reading, scribbled in a hundred reporter’s notebooks, hanging out in The Cloud or on my Google Account, and locked up in the firewall of my corporate computer on the 5th floor of the Equitable Building off Wall Street.
And I feel like through all of the buzzing in my head, I keep doing everything as right as I know how. My life has been a series of steps toward a goal and then another one. The plot has risen and fallen and I’ve tried really hard to find the right balance of exposition and scene. For the first time in my life I’m lost. I’m really good at finding my way. I know this because everyone who visits me cannot. Usually I’ve cultivated the next step for myself but right now I feel like Odysseus or James Joyce’s Bloom: I’m a step away from getting on the right track home but I’m just not there. The problem is that I’ve got this great job, I’m surrounded by these great people, it’s impossibly exciting, but I’m really bad at living in the moment. I have to make something of everything. Maybe that’s the trouble with being an optimist.
Now the news: I was an eyelash away from landing a full-time job and not having to decide what I would do if the universe didn’t decide it for me. But, in the most recent of the emails filled with completely detached, meta-marketing gobbledygook, the company I’m working for sent out an “Organizational Announcement,” which also meant that the position for which I had been considered is on ice, frozen, no longer up for grabs.
Now please remember that I’m still an optimist and that I’m a-OK, as I share with you a very sad poem after divulging some very sad news. The passage I was reading in Ulysses sampled this verse by A.E. / George William Russell:
What of all the will to do?
It has vanished long ago,
For a dream-shaft pierced it through
From the Unknown Archer’s bow.
What of all the soul to think
Some one offered it a cup
Filled with diviner drink,
And the flame has burned it up.
What of all the hope to climb?
Only in the self we grope
To the misty end of time:
Truth has put an end to hope.
What of all the heart to love?
Sadder than for will or soul,
No light lured in on above;
Love has found itself the whole.
Rest assured, the flame hath not burnt up. Tomorrow morning, a professor from Geneseo is recording my elevator pitch for doing journalism in the face of hopelessness and we will talk about my life and I will be unflappably enthusiastic. And I’m going to continue to insist on being impressive at work even if my friends serenaded me to stay on the roof just one, two, three more hours until the sun rose last night … and I hereby, solemnly pledge to return to this blog. Only in the self we grope. I have too many notes scribbled on the insides of too many books to let them go to waste. And I have seven poor, neglected, half-written posts loaded on my dashboard. I’m really holding myself accountable by putting this out there, but I’m keeping up what I’ve cultivated. And I’ve got to finish that Ulysses.