Phantom Coordinates

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In the car, I have stopped using my GPS.

It happened to me after living in Portland for a few months, too. — The mundane, yet extraordinary, moment when you gaze out over the steering wheel and — you know the road.

Where it leads. Where you can deviate. The stops, shortcuts, speed traps, and turns that will pull you off one course and place you seamlessly onto another. And, even though it has built over time, in the moment, it feels like it happened all at once — like that euphoric three minutes when you finally learn to ride your bike, sailing down the street, without falling  over to one side.

At the post office, I sent a package to an old friend and I wrote my return address on a label with ease. Numbers that, now, are etched on that strange spot in my brain. Numbers that will continue to live here, at this address — even when I do not — in my head, occupying their own room, holding space, long after walking out of it, a home that will sit forever next to all the others where I have lived, and since left behind.

I live here now. Here. Along these roads.

There is a duplicitous feeling, a kind of beauty and terror when you become rooted in place. For me, there have always been three ways to experience home: To Stay. To Leave. To Escape. — And, no matter what state of experience you find yourself living in, it’s a sure bet that you will find yourself surrounded by people who are experiencing that same place in a different way. Namely, if you’re staying — they’re going. And vice versa.

Since returning to New York State, I’ve found myself strangely connected to people that are in various states of transition. And, I do not think that’s by chance. It’s no coincidence the day I realized that I know how to drive myself home from the Colonie shopping center, three different ways — without consulting Siri — many of the people I know or love are in the process of moving on. Leaving New York to begin something new, far away.

It’s been my experience that the Universe will always hold up a mirror and show me what might have been. The Universe will always ask me to choose. — Stay. Leave. Escape. –– In the past, it always seemed easiest to Escape.

Happiness though — happiness is always right where you are. And, that’s the crazy thing about finding your place in the world, and in yourself. You have to stop moving long enough to really see how things are. It turns out, that mirror, the same one that used to tempt you with its possibility, is just a map, showing you all the different routes available. Routes that will, eventually, lead you to the same place.

Like seasons, the ever-changing cast of characters in all the places I have called home, move in and out of my life, marking unpredictable stages of loss and growth. It can be so difficult to say goodbye — to leave behind our phantom coordinates. But now, as I begin embracing all the unexpected people and places that I find myself loving, I realize that — once, it was just as hard to say hello.

Since leaving my parent’s home in September, people have come and go. — Peter abandon Brooklyn for a job with the Department of Justice in Washington DC. Joseph, is packing up the few bags he has, while learning Spanish and saving his pennies for the plane tickets that will take him to Spain in the Fall. And, Jimmy is about to stuff boxes that will be shipped out from Albany and sent to the south side of Chicago.

But, me, I’m on this road — one that, apparently, I have come to know quite well. My rear view mirror reflects back more than what’s behind me. It reveals place itself, infinite in every direction, lines that move us ever forward. And, weaving in and out of the traffic with me — is Happiness.

As dusk falls over Albany, the grey, Winter sky showcases the magnificent, lavender-tinted, East Coast clouds. Each is sewn to the horizon, connected and held together by thin seams of sunlight,  the sky’s fabric falling like a heavy and handsome curtain at the edge of the highway’s stage.

I lean into a bend on the thruway, moving sixty-five miles an hour, under my big, New York sky. And, now, sure of the road, I see it in the infinite space between the lines that run down the center of the lane, these phantom coordinates, and I know  — it wasn’t my GPS that brought me here after all.

 

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A Daughter Of The East

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Since leaving Portland, I find little comfort in my place.

I’ve been a New Yorker. I’ve felt its pulse. How the city surges and creativity bleeds up through the asphalt in the heat of summer. How the Winter wind gets in your bones and teaches you, that parts of you — were always cold. How Spring emerges in Washington Square Park from tulip bulbs that have ached, for long months, to paint the city with their color.

But, now, my New York moments have become frequent realizations that the place I once belonged — the home that once called out loudly for me — has quieted, and only loops the hushed whispers of my past — dreams for another life.

So, on a random Friday, without a plan, I find myself driving.

I end up in Kingston, New York. — Not on a total whim. — My cousin, more like a sister, who knows me better than most people care to, told me ages ago, that she thought I’d like it here. I pay a quarter to park the car next to the U.S. Post Office and step out into this cold winter day. — She was right.

In upstate New York, I can move with ease. Trees are a more common sight than people and every few miles, the scent of a wood-burning stove fills my nostrils and I am reminded that life can be simpler than subway maps and overpriced high-rises.

Kingston, on the Westerly side of the Hudson, is colorful. Narrow streets lined with bright buildings that are old, but not tired. Kingston breathes.

And so, I breathe with it as I walk around the Old Dutch Church, clutching a cup of hot Earl Grey, out onto a series of little streets which meet one another at curbs that are adorably uneven. The town feels tiny and boasts wood framed, two-story buildings proudly. Each one a New England-y version of the saloons out in the Old West, adorned with decorative, quartered-wagon-wheel fixtures at the corners of each squared-off porch.

Every street corner is regulated by four-way-stop-signs and a flashing red light. Though, I patiently wait at John Street for the Volvo that has the right of way, the woman behind its wheel still waves me on with her puffy grey mitten. And I shuffle, hurriedly, to the uneven curb across the street, waving my thanks with my free hand and gripping my paper tea cup with the other.

This place feels new and old and it floods my heart with it’s charm. I have a moment where I feel like my life is possible again. Real life. — A new apartment building. A new job. A new route to the grocery store. — I could have those things here. I could be OK here. I could be OK. Here. — And, I feel something that I haven’t felt in a long while.

Placed.

I drive through the Hudson Valley and afternoon light hits the mountains, just so, turning them a Holy blue-purple hue that I will not attempt to describe. It reminds me of Sauvie Island, back in Portland. I pull into a gas station and allow my eyes to well up with tears. I let myself pine for Portland. I feel it surge. — All the love I left there. Lost there. Burned there. And, in the parking lot of the Sunoco gas station just five miles out of Kingston, I let it all go and decide –as long as I’m here — it’s time to refuel.

There are reasons to leave the places we love. There is a time to come home and wake your mother in the middle of the night so that she can hold you while you weep. Ruin will sometimes find us, even when we thought we’d escaped it. There are seasons we will lose to depression and bad weather. And, Baba Ram Dass would tell me — Baby, this is all just grist for the mill.

Every now and then, we should take the roads that lead to the places our sisters say we should go. And, perhaps, those are the places we should stay. Rewrite our maps. Discover rivers that will lead us around new curves, spilling out into different oceans. New bodies of water where we can empty out our hearts and make room. Room for bright colors and uneven curbs. Room for new routes and routines. Where strangers with grey mittens will wave us on to what’s next.

Kingston. — On the highway that takes you, in just an hour, to the sister who would have you be happy above all things. A daughter of the East, returns. To this — The Empire State.

Back again, and in the same state as my mother, who once thought she lost me to the wild, wild West.

 

Image Courtesy of:  http://kingston-ny.gov/

 

Here, In My Place.

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Oregon. It’s more than just the place where I got sober. — It’s the place I invented.

Five years ago, I was so sure I knew the road I was traversing. I was sure of everything. I thought I had defined who I was. And, when I headed West from New York City to Portland, with my love, my ambition, and my idealistic dreams, it all seemed so — written. Today, I know that those first steps were only the prologue in a much longer story.

I always thought it would be the place that changed me. Oregon. But, that wasn’t so. This place wasn’t my savior or my curse. Though, at different points in time, I’ve thought it was both. And, I think that’s what I find most interesting about our sense of place. — We think it will define us, but, it’s us who will define it.

No, it never was the Wild West, or the wide and winding rivers, or the deep and twisted gorge. It was the maps I’ve etched onto my own heart. — Maps I could not have penned until I was already in motion. It was sobriety. Something unexpected. Someone unexpected. And, after many falls, I learned — I’d just been fighting to stand in my own place. — Trying, a little too desperately, to forge a trail that had existed inside me all along.

Re-writing your own concept of place is painful. It’s unpredictable and the trajectory is constantly changing. You’ll want to stay still, but, eventually, you’ll give in to the motion. You’ll succumb to your location. And, you’ll laugh at yourself for thinking that you’d stay in this one place — and that, here, you’d know yourself, with surety, forever. So many of the promises we make to ourselves in our youth are truly fool’s gold.

Our true place is un-seeable. Un-knowable. Somewhere we can never truly visit. Its location is our heart’s guess work. We walk through uncharted lands. We look for our place. And, all of us, with our small semblances of pragmatism, find it a challenge to navigate terrain that’s daunting and foreign. We resist. We trip over the Earth we thought was secure beneath our boots.

But, in time, we’ll all discover that we can never locate our true place. There are no coordinates to enter into a GPS. — Only the long steps it took us getting there. The dirt between our toes. The love that pulls us in one direction, then, the explosion in our heart that blows us off the course, landing us somewhere we’d never intended to go.

Yet, here, in this place, we stand. And, just by having made it here, we have done something worthy. We’ve arrived at a destination. Our place. We can put down roots, or, just as easily, we can pull them up and walk onward. We draw one map while we read another.

So, maybe it’s true. Place can define us — but only if we write our own maps.

Here, in Oregon — I recognize the land. I know when the weather is going to turn. I can feel the change in the atmosphere. And, even on the days when it smells like New York, and the sky behind Mt. Hood mirrors one I saw floating above the Brooklyn Bridge years ago — I know where I am — I know where I stand.

It’s here, in this place, I have put down my roots.

And, at the base of a mountain, amongst Oregon pine, amidst all this rain — I’ve grown.