On Restlessness, Cornelia Street and the Harvard Club
The last several weeks have been trying for me–to say the least–and have led me to question who and what I really am in the world. The answer, as always, is that I’m a writer; but sadly, I’m in the 99% of writers who have to do something else to support myself and my family. That reality is constantly at odds with my sense of identity…and for some reason, with the onset of spring, I feel that more strongly than ever, and it manifests itself in restlessness. I want to be somewhere else right now. I want to be doing something else right now.
Because of this particular desire, I’ve been re-inhabiting some of my
more writerly adventures from the past. Such as the time, a few springs ago, when I was invited to participate in a reading of poets who had not yet had a book published. This reading took place in one of the most cool New York City venues for poetry, the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village. The program hosted by Alexandra Grace, and was called “Post MFA/Pre-Book:” I was booked to read that Wednesday in May with two other poets. Needless to say, I was terrified–me, the one who is afraid of everything–onstage in New York; granted, Cornelia Street isn’t exactly Carnegie Hall, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the Big Time.
Fortunately, two of my Simply Not Done women, Brenda Sparks Prescott and Rebecca Bearden Welsh, were able to accompany me. Becky and I flew in to LaGuardia from Portland, then met Brenda at the Harvard Club of New York City. Yes, the Harvard Club. Brenda is a member. When the cab pulled up to the curb and the liveried doorman helped us out, I knew I was truly in an alternate universe.
We shared a room. It had two beds, and Brenda ordered a cot. So we were cramped…but we were cramped in the Harvard Club in New York, which, thanks to its cachet, is a far cooler place to be sardined into than anywhere else I can think of. Lunch was in the dining room beyond the Club’s great formal staircase; I’d been there once before with Brenda, and it was a place that always made me feel really outclassed (that monogrammed silver! those crested plates!). We spent the afternoon talking, walking, sitting in a place on West 4th Street called Las Ramblas Bar de Tapas drinking wine and eating all the kinds of olives in the universe…except that I didn’t eat, because I couldn’t: I was terrified. I was even more terrified (but incredibly pleased beyond measure) to find that the poster stuck prominently in the window at the Cornelia Street Cafe had my name on it. My name. On a poster in a window in New York City. It was almost like being famous.
I don’t remember much of the reading. I can’t remember what I read save for one piece, “To My Son, Playing Rec Basketball.” I do remember feeling that I didn’t quite understand the reading of one of the other poets, and I was frustrated at my own lack. I do remember that I was surprised when,
once the reading was done, we re-emerged onto Cornelia Street, where it was still daylight–I was certain that hours had passed, down in the dark narrow reading space that the cafe offers. And I do remember how entirely grateful I was that Brenda and Becky had accompanied me on this terrifying journey. I was more than pleased when we retired to an Italian restaurant on Bleecker Street, where the great windows were propped open to the May evening, and we could drink a glass of wine and bask.
I’ve done many readings since then. None of them, however, have been that nerve-wracking, primarily because, as far as I’m concerned, the Cornelia Street Cafe is The Big Time. I’ve been there. A couple of times. Thus, when I feel trapped and restless as I have these past few weeks, I have that to fall back on.
At the Harvard Club, I got some embossed letterhead from the business room on the second floor, and mailed myself an envelope, addressed to me at school. Just because. When the mail was sorted into my mailbox up in the main office, people up there could see I was getting mail from the Harvard Club of New York City and think I was in fact someone important. Oh, the games we play.
The day following the reading, before Becky and I flew home,
the three of us had lunch at a sandwich kiosk in Bryant Park.
It was a beautiful day. We occupied a cast iron table near some shrubbery. My sandwich was awesome (I’ve been trying to reproduce it at home ever since). The sun shone, the birds sang, it was the day after a successful reading in New York. When at last we got up to leave, a man in a suit vaulted over the shrubbery and into one of the chairs almost before it was vacant. Ah, lunchtime in the city.