On Wednesday, I visited the NY Society Library, bought a day pass, and began assembling my thesis. My thesis is something I have been calling the shell of my book, but when I say the word shell I don’t mean an eggshell, where everything is neat, suspended, and contained within a thin, fragile layer, I mean the other kind of shell. A conch or maybe a broken piece of coral, where the elements can flow in one way and flow out another.
As I sit at a table on the fifth floor of this library, assembling the parts and pieces of this shell—my shell-that’s due to my advisor in less than a month, I realize how fully addicted I am to the float-feeling: the feeling that some writers call being in “the zone”, where after I finish tweaking a word, or restructuring a sentence, or writing a memory, I have forgotten where I am for a moment, where everything around me has fallen away and it’s just me and the edges and curves in front of me. And then, as soon as I realize I feel disoriented, my surroundings rush back. I am again inside the room among other writers on the fifth floor with the sun casting a glow on the wood table and the white noise of the shuffling of papers and the tap-tap-tapping of keys.
turkey sub with oil, vinegar, and hot peppers from Rocky’s
I was in Nutley, New Jersey to explore a corner of someone’s life. A dimmed corner of a life and a time I’d only heard stories about. I was in Nutley to seek evidence that the stories were true. I was expecting to find nothing of value. I was expecting to be turned away. I figured at the very least I’d have a good cup of coffee and some exercise.
Nutley at first, with its beautiful parks, nice little library, and local sub shop, felt like any other quaint little town I’d visited. But then it felt like more. The more I explored, the more comfortable and relaxed I got. Nutley was different. Friendlier. And it wasn’t just the strangers who walked past me and said hello. When I asked the owner of the sub shop for bus directions back to the Port Authority, he went out of his way to write them out for me. When I realized I forgot my ID at the library after spending the better part of an afternoon searching through old yearbooks, the reference librarian recognized me as soon as I walked in and said, “I was looking for you!” as if we were old friends and not just two strangers who’d just met earlier that day and barely exchanged ten words apiece.
Within that town’s library I found a little physical proof, but the real value for me was walking the same trails and sidewalks I knew she must’ve walked fifty years ago. I found her in the calm water, in the weeping willow tree, I saw her riding her bike up and down the trails and eating an Italian sub with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. In Nutley I finally found her.
Reading that Art Forum write-up reminded me that advertisers steal from artists—not the other way around. It reminded me that anything can be commoditized, and anything sold by an artist of color is viewed as less valuable. The best art is art that holds traditionally-held beliefs to task. The best art is political.
PS – Some photos of the Jefferson Market Library in case you’ve never been. It’s something special.