Saturday, November 24, 2012


New York City sky

I used to say that New York City is the only place where I know north, south, east and west. Just put me down somewhere in Manhattan and I can tell you where I am. I was born in Manhattan but raised on Long Island. My siblings and I knew that we didn’t belong there, and as we listened to our parents moan about life in that small town (whose edges blended seamlessly with all the other small towns on the south shore), we would encourage them to move back to the city. Maybe it was lack of courage, or maybe they really meant it when they said they had moved there for us—but it certainly didn’t make any sense since the schools were better in the city, the ease of attending cultural events couldn’t be argued, and the ability to have dim sum every day, or real Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern, or any ethnic food was an important point. I guess riding your bicycle in the street was a plus for Long Island, but by the time I reached junior high I was taking two buses, and a subway almost every weekend to the city to attend a Broadway play with another friend whose parents had excelled her on Long Island.

Guggenheim Museum, NYC 
We were raised to understand that school meant kindergarten through college, and then we could move back to Manhattan. That is almost exactly what I did—with a few months in Europe before moving to the City. Until I was 42, I moved in and out of the city—thriving and excited until I would reach the point where I was reading the New York Times on a Sunday, mentally attending all the week’s activities, and then doing nothing. The four walls of my apartment would become my boundaries, and I would know it was time to move. The last time I left the city (this time from Brooklyn, not Manhattan) I went to graduate school. In a way it marked a change in my life because it opened up the possibilities of jobs with responsibility and creative outlets. It helped that my first full-time job was only two hours from New York City. That first year or two we drove there almost every weekend. I distinctly remember the evening we were stopped in a traffic jam trying to enter one of the bridges, and pulled over, singled out because our car had out of state plates. That $200 fine really hurt, and our trips to the city dropped off as we began to investigate Philadelphia.

33 Years! 
There have been lots of moves in my 33 years with Mark (anniversary next week), and now we are trying to figure out the next one. Just last week a friend looked at me with an extremely severe, stern expression on her face and reminded me that I have a beautiful house with lots of room (meaning studio space). Yes, I know she is right. But I can’t help thinking that we are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, me and Mark, locked together and trying to find the surrounding puzzle where we fit. You know how you have a puzzle piece that looks like it should fit in a space, and you move it around in every possible position trying to get it in, and you sort of can even squeeze it in, but you know it isn’t right. When the piece fits, it eases into place with an audible sigh of relief. We are looking for that ease.

Mark Goodwin's studio in Vermont 
In the last few years, now that we are back on the East Coast, we have had the chance to return to New York and Philadelphia, and a few other places we have called home, and just this week I returned from a fabulous two weeks in New Mexico, the last place we called home. What I have learned is that my compass has expanded. New York, Santa Fe, Philadelphia—each of these places is familiar. Walking their streets is like an embrace by someone you love. There is a constant nodding of recognition, an internal ahhhhh, the yes of knowing where you are and what is around the corner. Of course there are changes—and despite the economic woes of these times—those changes feel vital and good.

Love my Friends!
Returning to these familiar places has also shown me what a people person I am. I love my friends. I love sitting with them (in that Chinese buffet where the food is not really very good but where we feel comfortable to sit for hours and talk; or in their kitchen which is a new place for me but still feels known because of all their possessions moved from the old house to the new) and catching up on their children, or siblings, or mutual friends, or themselves. Names of people I have never thought of since the last time I sat with them bubble up in my consciousness and I can ask how they are, what they are doing, where they are. It isn’t just gossip, or chatter, it is taking a reckoning of position, it is settling into home.

Folk Art Museum, Santa Fe, NM 
Maybe once we leave this place, we will return and find the same sense of the familiar. Five years have brought many shifts in my feelings. This spring/summer/fall were so beautiful that I couldn’t help seeing and acknowledging how gorgeous the world is in this area. But the cold has started, my arthritis is acting up, the days are too short. The litany of reasons to move doesn’t evaporate, despite the almost equal list of reasons to stay. Another place has become familiar but it still doesn’t feel like home. We have enough energy to believe that we could be happier somewhere else, enough energy to pack again and jump off the cliff. We just don’t know where we will land. I came home from Santa Fe with the same reaction I had to Philadelphia-- we can return. We just don’t know if we will return.

New Mexico Sky


  1. I love this piece Bhakti. Your experience is more universal than you may know. There are many people blessed/cursed with the moving bug (myself included), not quite ever settling down. Is there a correlation between settling into a place (here "settling" has a positive sense--but, in America, anyway, "settling" often has a negative meaning) versus simply settling into the act of moving. It's the moving and multiple places that's familiar, rather than one (and only) specific place. There are pros and cons to both lifestyles. One of the main cons? You don't get to reap the harvest of that very small sour cherry tree you planted.

  2. I read this entry with so much interest. I arrived here after googling Sandra Brownlee. Her work was just recently shown at a local museum in a fiber exhibition. My husband and I have moved many times too. We lived in NY for 10 years, I miss it. Santa Fe is on my list but I don't think I could live there, giant spiders! Hope you will post where you land. I think of moving back to upstate NY or VT. Thanks for your thought-filled post.