My mother came to NYC for the first time when I got married in 1998. She was a country woman, not unsophisticated but certainly no urbanite. She’d lived in small towns most of her life. It took her less than an afternoon of our wandering around NYC to figure out its essence.
As we walked down yet another street with tiny plots of flowers and small trees protected by wrought iron mini-fences, she said, “I see what New York City is all about now. It’s about space.”
She was right. And in the 26 years I’ve lived here, the amount of space has diminished, and what is still here is crowded with people with their heads turned down into smart phone screens. The cool shops and bodegas have been replaced by drug stores, banks and coffee shops. It’s like a strip mall turned into a city. The parking lot behind my building is now a construction site, and soon my balcony view will be a shaft-way. There’s not enough space any more.
So I’m heading out west. Back to the land of big skies, and long stretches of empty highway, the mountains that you can see hours before you reach them, and that eventually loom up before you, admitting you into their shady glades of aspen and blue spruce and grassy meadows that stretch out for miles. I’m eager to have all that space around me.
And since I’m no longer going to be managing a space, my beloved Stage Left Studio (the locus for a brilliant community of actors and writers), I’m going to have lots of time. For ten years I have marked out the space on my Google calendar – blue for personal events, green for the theater, yellow for shows, and red for workshops. My time has been broken up into pieces, labeled and charted and arranged. I’ve felt encroached upon by my multiple plans, just like I feel encroached upon by all the heedless smart phone users, who veer into my space without noticing, or by the noise of the traffic, taking up space in my head.
I see how my time and space have been narrowed by my choices. And now I’ve made new choices. I’ve got a year to travel and work with friends, with large amounts of open time, and chances to spend that time in open spaces.
The preparation for that requires a lot of sorting and discarding, and in five weeks I will begin packing in earnest. I’m keeping my center of operations in NYC, and storing my belongings in such a way that I can come back and easily locate the things I need. I’ve made charts to define the different areas of my storage unit, and labels for the boxes of kitchen, office and bedroom stuff—all of this in anticipation of the day that I come back to those boxes to trade out shorts and tank tops for coats and scarves, and head out on the road again.
And while I am in this ferment of planning and labeling and organizing for the future, I am also dreaming of the time and space of the future. When plans and managing are no longer necessary, what will I think about? Will I finally polish that play that’s waiting on my desktop? Or will I sit on a mesa and listen to the wind and find myself in a state of peace so profound that even creative activity is too much to take on? What will the space inside my head look like then? Will it be sprouting with seedlings of new plays and concepts, or will mental tumbleweeds make their way across uncharted expanses? I really don’t know. And from where I am right now, I can’t know. And that is a major contributor to my current state of heady anticipation–to have the time and space to not know, and for that to be OK.