when I imagine rapid expansion, like text on an inflating balloon, I also imagine death valley, of cracks spread out uniformly as far as the eye can see, and then my footsteps, skipping from ice floe to floe.
but really, expansion isn't like that, this material metaphor leaks away; we can't compare physical expansion with this conceptual expansion, the word "expansion" having stretched these things apart. expansion is more like crystal growth, networks stretching, a spider leaping over there, silk in tow.
no matter. the point being. the past year has felt immensely rapid, stretching, transformative, in indescribable ways. knowing parts of my being that I did not know was there. understanding undercurrents. being more reflexive in response to my own being. things that did not make sense before now make more sense, a little bit more, and I can project my own understandings on to the world a little bit more and empathize a little bit more. I have a tiny bit of a taste of the scope of things, the nature of time, the value of patience, the depth of work.
maybe a good metaphor would be: I understand how many cups of water it takes to fill a bathtub; I know how many buckets it takes to scoop out water from a swimming pool; perhaps I can understand, not in numbers but in emotion (or in emotional numbers) the depth and intensity of how many branches there are in a forest. or: I can taste depth / time / value, just a tiny bit, and have an inkling of what it will be like as time passes by more.
the persistent question is: where, this all. when a friend dies, where do they go; where are you left; how many parts of their being have you seen, etc etc etc
spatial metaphors prevail. I think: if new york would cease to exist tomorrow, we would all reminisce over these vast different aspects of the city that we love. I may speak about these parts of brooklyn, these aspects of manhattan, how once-hated morningside heights now crackles with this warm humming energy, how I really can't stand soho or tribeca any more because of its sickly-green deathly pallor, how certain parts of midtown are still so other to me, how hell's kitchen has grown to become this familiar beacon, how bed-stuy is slowly changing, like watching a high-school friend change their name, parts of crown heights and prospect heights that feel like summer in full bloom and in sheer joy. that area of flushing that you stumbled out onto that felt like watching korean movies from the 90s, etc. dizzying multiplicative vinyl-sided buildings in bushwick, sounds of summer associated with beds, soft ceilings. that part of washington heights in a sticky summer reading don delillo and david foster wallace.
those are just some of mine. yours would be different. "fort tilden? oh yes, fort tilden. what about that time you biked around staten island?" and all of these other formations. they would not just be three blind men groping an elephant that is already there, if they could just take off their blindfolds, nor is it gibberish that is always having to be interpreted -- but the city is something else, something anterior to just pure knowledge waiting to be discovered, but more like a completely sovereign entity with more than enough agency acting on its own, moving, manifesting, rumbling, sometimes withdrawn, sometimes overly manic, but enough neighborhoods to harbor 8 million people. one's own relationship with the city is never totalizing, never complete, never desiring to be complete. I'm always happy to discover new places, but I also understand the way in which a new place may also happen nearby, nearby and new, newly on the next block, on that street you've rarely walked on, just a short ride away. and a great deal of my relationship with the city (or with travel) is that I understand it to be generated, partially with it, partially from a relationship with myself, as if the linkage between the city and me is another kind of entity. bruno latour may call these snakes, with the head standing for knowledge, the tail standing for 'the world', each linkage always a complex, tangled, intricate, and lively thing.
so. the city is there for you to use, and to discover, and to wander out, and to wander in. it is as much petri dish and blank page as it is culture and ink, as much substrate as it is organism, figure as it is ground, but not oscillating inbetween these two poles but the source of all complexities. unconsciously and consciously we celebrate being mashed up here together by collectively sharing locations, arguing over different interpretations, yet understanding at a base level that is what the city offers; that is what space offers. when we gather in the aftermath of a city's disappearance we're not trying to reconstitute the city through our collective recreations; we're not patching up puzzle pieces to recreate a whole to understand what was actually there. there was never any whole, nor a lack. none of that.
so maybe that is what this feels like. a city disappears, and you think, well, that was incredibly sad, and I will miss this friend and neighbor whom I was excited to have in my life for 4+ years, who I had a great deal of late-night or early morning conversations with, who was energy embodied, but also much more human than just a party figure, whom I could talk to about the pains of a building taking years, variances and all that, who wanted to wax about the process of building, of making, of manifesting it into the real, who told me to invite him over when my space was done, who met and talked about designing these series of stairs with, designing this facade. who generously opened his studio so I could host the first marx meeting.
and to others, other neighborhoods will matter, they knew other streets that I did not. we can say: how spectacular. how deep of a city. how winding its roads are. how many secret spaces it holds. how complex its ecosystems. how everything is made by people, made of people. how gorgeous people can be.