love goes to buildings that are now luxury condos

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This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

New York is one of those few rare places where you can read about a place in the city one minute — an old building where someone once lived, an abandoned music venue, a corner where that one special scene in a movie from decades ago was shot — then find yourself actually there the next. Buildings are not just buildings. Streets are not just streets. At least, not to some people. At least, not to me.

The Apthorp. Macdougal Street. 52 West 8th Street. 315 Bowery. The Hotel Chelsea. I could write you a long list if I wanted to, a list of places that are not just addresses and buildings and random New York streets. They’re places that mean something. They hold memories, even if they aren’t really mine. The place didn’t make the place; the people who came before me did.

On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself standing on a random sidewalk, perhaps insignificant to 80 percent of the world, still, closing my eyes, trying to cull memories that are built on second-hand information from my brain. And then I open them and stare at another luxury development and wonder where exactly it is I am doing and what exactly it is I’m doing there. I try to place the people back into the picture and start to wonder why it’s becoming more and more difficult to feel even a tiny bit of spark of inspiration, a tiny bit of understanding of what things were like before this very moment.

These are supposed to be haunted streets, haunted with our ancestors’ spirits, those living and dead, those related to us not by blood, but by spirit. The dreamers and artists and thinkers and poets. These are supposed to be haunted streets, but it’s getting harder to feel their spirits, harder to close my eyes and truly feel, harder to summon energy of a time I can’t help but think I’ve missed out on.

Joan Didion once wrote, “I am trying to place myself in history. I have been looking all my life for history and have yet to find it.” I came to New York to be a part of history. To revisit history. To make my own history. But history is quickly being renovated or torn down or overshadowed by high rise buildings that may sparkle in the sunset but still sit empty, homes to nothing more than investments, at the end of the day.

I wonder if anyone in the future will feel the same way I feel now. I wonder if the places that are significant to me now, the places that I will tell stories of, will mean anything years from now, or if they’ll all be whitewashed beyond recognition, the way CBGBs is now a men’s clothing store and the Palladium is now an NYU dorm and Pearl Paint now houses $16,000 a month condos. Will it still feel the same? Will anyone care?

The city giveth and the city taketh away. The only constant about New York is that it’s always changing. Maybe I sound very young and very romantic and very naive, but I know this. I have known this. I have known that, in so many ways, this city is better — I know that I should be grateful, that I should be acknowledging how wonderful it is that crime rate is down and I don’t have to push a dead hobo from my doorway when I leave for work in the morning or worry too too much about getting mugged on the subway — but I can’t help but wonder if better is always actually better. Or, if it is, who is it really better for?

This usually happens right around the time I notice how goddamn quiet it is, how homogenized things are beginning to look, how alone with my thoughts I am. I live in New York. Isn’t it supposed to be dirty? Isn’t it supposed to be loud? Aren’t I supposed to be making calls to 311 every other day, while knowing in the back of my mind that this is what I signed up for? Because, really, this is what I signed up for. I signed up for the scary and the tough and the gritty and the unpleasant and the bad that’s supposed to make the good all the sweeter in the end.

I still believe that New York is the greatest city in the world, still believe in its infinite possibilities. I wouldn’t have stayed here for as long as I have if I didn’t. But New York doesn’t feel like a city for the very young very often anymore. Is cleaning things up really making this city better? Do we need another brunch place that specializes in vegan avocado toast or a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks or, as I saw recently, scrawled on the window of what was once an Urban Outfitters (I know) whose doors had been shut to make way for new businesses, another fucking bank? Do we need another bucolic residential development or another new high rise that only a handful of people can afford to live in?

I’ve been searching for history, but it feels like it’s slipping away from me.

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“The Dealer,” the first single from Stevie Nicks’s first album in three years, 24 Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault, a collection of old demos and one-offs revisited years later, was released on this day in 2014. I typically save my essays or short thoughts for bigger things and more significant anniversaries, but this song holds a special spot in my heart that I had to share a little something.

I cannot listen to “The Dealer” without thinking about my first real year in New York, without remembering those terrifying months after graduation — the ones that bled into each other so much that I lost track of time and hadn’t even realized a year had passed and I was in the city not as a student, but as an adult. I cannot listen to it without thinking about living in my first real apartment, suddenly feeling like I’m right back in that overpriced closet-sized room without a closet where I could touch both walls while sitting on my bed. I cannot listen to it without thinking about all those evenings walking through Soho at golden hour with it on repeat on my way home from work, all those mornings running to it on repeat by the East River at 6:30 a.m. while most of the city slept. My feet still remember those steps, the exact buildings I would pass at exact points in the song.

“The Dealer” made me feel electrified and excited and magical. It made me feel so alive and free and so young, but in the best possible way. I was the mistress of my fate. It made me feel like New York was my own enchanted, charmed playground, like some golden-hued, filtered alternate reality full of infinite possibilities — it was 2014 and I was listening to new Stevie Nicks, new Stevie Nicks that sounded like old Stevie Nicks, so what year was it, really?

I can’t listen to “The Dealer” without remembering that serendipitous time when I started writing my best pieces, when those pieces led me to finding my best friend, the girl whose first message to me told me, without being cheesy, to “Rock on, ancient queen.”

I can’t listen to it without thinking of the accompanying 24 Karat Gold Polaroid gallery, how I thought I was going to throw up when I got a press invite to opening night — Me? I thought. Little me? Won’t people ask where my parents are? I can’t listen to it without remembering how long I shopped for the perfect dress, how my hands shook the whole day in anticipation, how the crisp air felt on my bare shoulders as I walked from the train to the gallery, how I felt like I was floating the whole evening. I didn’t touch the open bar, but I was drunk — drunk on that feeling when you know you’re in the presence of magic. I can’t listen to it without thinking about how I started to type out my review on my phone about five minutes after I left, how the words just poured out effortlessly because I was so inspired. I can’t listen to it without thinking about how I let it repeat again and again and again on the way home, feeling exhausted but too wired to sleep, feeling a little bit like I had finally found the closest thing possible to a time machine.

This is why I love music. Yes, I love the technical aspects — the melodies and harmonies, the chords, the guitar solos; yes, I love excellent songwriting. But the feel, and the way music can be so closely tied to memories — like a soundtrack to your life — is what really gets me.

A Night with a Thousand Stevies

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This piece originally appeared on Inspirer.

Maybe Stevie Nicks fans were onto something when they started Night of 1,000 Stevies 25 years ago in a small club in New York’s Meatpacking District. This year’s not even halfway over, and already we’ve seen countless tribute parties in the wake of the deaths of beloved icons. Why wait until someone is gone to celebrate their life? Why don’t we honor the people we love once a year, every year, while they’re still alive and kicking?

Every year, more than 1,000 people flood Irving Plaza to do just that: attend a six hour long party honoring and celebrating the life and music of Stevie Nicks. It’s campy. It’s strange. It’s fun. “It’s a Noah’s Arc of Stevie love,” co-creator Chi Chi Valenti told Rolling Stone last year.

That’s what it really is, above everything else: something that brings together people from all walks of life — middle-aged suburban moms, drag queens, Brooklyn hipsters, fans for more than 30 years, fans for only two or three — and from all over the country (one girl flew in from Florida) for one night because they all can find one common ground: a love of Stevie Nicks. The menagerie of people couldn’t be more different, and, yet, Stevie Nicks brings them together. Maybe she really is a witch, because that’s a pretty powerful thing to do.

“Thank you all for coming out to celebrate the queen of everything!” Valenti exclaimed midway through the night. Sure, it’s a great way to psych up a crowd who had already spent the better part of the evening “Yas queen”-ing, but if you think for a second, “queen of everything” isn’t really such a hyperbole. The original selfie queen? Check.Queen of rock and roll? Check. Aesthetic queen? Check. As Richard S. from Albany said, “she created a brand for herself before that was even a thing.”

Night of 1,000 Stevies is not for the faint of heart or the shy. It’s a karaoke party, drag show, and dance club all rolled into one, then put on steroids. The costumes on display are outrageous. All the hits are played, of course, but rest assured that this isn’t the type of audience you want to hit with “Edge of Seventeen” six times in one night. No, the crowd is loud as they enthusiastically shout out all the words to remixes of deep album cuts and demos.

It’s the kind of place where people are quick to tell you the connection they feel with Stevie Nicks, a favorite memory or favorite song, but have a more difficult time distilling why they love the singer in the first place into a simple sentence. “She’s just… totally unique,” many said.

“Her voice is the best female rock voice of all time, but lyrically — everything hits you in the heart,” Richard S. said. “But it’s abstract, so everyone can relate to it and can take what they want from it.”

His friend Ryan nodded and added: “She doesn’t play victim in her songs, which is kind of rare. Even when she’s heartbroken, she’s always kind of in charge. She’s not crying and complaining. She says ‘I miss that, that hurt me,’ but she moves on, and she’s damn strong.”

That’s something that brings a lot of people to Night of 1,000 Stevies in the first place. Despite being given an ever-increasing amount of access into celebrities’ lives, it’s becoming harder to find celebrities today who are so comfortable being vulnerable in front of millions of people. It’s harder to find celebrities who go through intensely testing trials and come out on the other side even stronger. It’s harder to find celebrities who have managed to stay relevant for more than 40 years without ever having to reinvent themselves.

Night of 1,000 Stevies isn’t just a celebration of music. It’s a celebration of what it means to be an artist, a celebration of what it means to be brave, a celebration of what it feels like to throw away inhibitions and be yourself, even if it’s just for a few hours.

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When I considered going to the event for the first time last year, I felt a little embarrassed. It all seemed so over-the-top that I wondered how it would look if I went. Would all the people there in their detailed costumes think I was an amateur for just showing up in a black chiffon-y dress? Would all the people seeing my Instagrams think I was a crazy fangirl? I searched for reasons to justify it: “Well, what if Stevie makes a surprise appearance this year like she’s hinted at before?” “Oh, it’s just a fun way to drink and dance and listen to my favorite music.”

It’s okay to admit that you’re going to a party full of fans who are just as excited and full of love for something as you because you want to have that experience. You don’t need an excuse. Maybe we’re all so wrapped up in this idea that we are supposed to be jaded and blasé, this internal monologue repeatedly telling us don’t care too much; find your chill.

Here’s the thing: sometimes, it’s kind of cool to not be chill about something. It’s cool to care about things — really care about them. It’s cool to meet other people who care about the same things as you. And it’s pretty close to magical to be surrounded by 1,000 of them on a Friday night in New York, a city with more than 8 million strangers bustling through it every day. You don’t need an excuse for that. Go dance to the music you love. Go sing at the top of your lungs. Blame it on your wild heart.

New Beginnings

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

The walls are empty.

That’s the first thing I notice about my bedroom now that 85 percent of it is crammed inside cardboard boxes and duffel bags and garbage bags. The walls are bare, a bland beige now even more off-putting with shadows of discoloration, memories of the decorations that had speckled them for the past year.

The wall with the tapestry looks freshly painted, practically untouched by light. Above my bed, dark square silhouettes serve as reminders of where my favorite albums once watched over me while I slept. A patch next to my door, right above the light switch, looked a lot more inviting with my sister’s paintings there to greet me first thing every morning when I flipped on the lights.

It’s not the cargo van from Zipcar reserved in my name or the new keys that jangle on my ring or the deposit check that signify that this is real for me. It’s this absence of character in my bedroom that makes me feel it.

This was my first real, adult bedroom.

Unlike college, it was mine, all mine. My sanctuary. I could burn candles and hammer nails into the thin walls. I could come and go, wake up early or sleep in, without worrying about disturbing someone else living two feet from me.

Unlike my last room, it was really mine. It wasn’t a rented room in another woman’s apartment. My name was on the lease. It wasn’t a glorified closet (which the last bedroom, ironically, lacked) that came pre-furnished with a bed that just barely squeezed into the tight confines. I filled it with furniture I bought and assembled all on my own (okay, so it was from Ikea, in case you forgot that I’m not very adult at all, actually). I had space for activities.

This is where I wrote silly essays and sappy essays and Stevie essays. This is where I ate my meals in bed and spilled coffee on my comforter more than once. This is where I had sleepovers and drank margaritas and watched concerts on YouTube until 4 in the morning. This is where I sang and danced around to Led Zeppelin records while getting dressed in the morning. This was my space. My temple.

Moving is a bitch, but it’s time. It’s been time for awhile now. I’m a Gemini. I can’t stay in one place too long. Especially if I’m bored and unhappy, which I had been here.

Some people love Astoria. Some of my coworkers do. Some of my friends do. My roommates do. I am not one of those people. I had come into this new apartment with a head full of high hopes and optimism. My three years in New York had been spent below 14th Street; moving to an outer borough, particularly one that people had told me, convincingly so, was up-and-coming (“bumping,” to be precise), would be a new adventure.

And it was an adventure in that I explored unknown territory. I just found that it wasn’t a very fun one.

Queens may have been bumping, but I wasn’t seeing it. I was seeing a street full of hookah bars one after the other followed by nothing but low rise apartment buildings and houses. I was hearing the crazy man who walked up and down my street every night singing – no, screaming – along to his Walkman radio. I was sitting on the subway day after day, struck by the MTA gods to have the most miserable commute of my life. What should be a 40 minute trek consistently took at least an hour, usually more, after all the delays and breakdowns and oh that thing where sometimes they just decide that no trains will be going into Manhattan at all. (Side note: The NQ line can suck it.)

I wasn’t happy. At all.

I wanted it to work. I did. Maybe it was just winter that made me feel that way. Winter lasts longer in New York, or at least it feels like it. New York winters overtake me, turn me into a miserable creature swearing every day to move to California and turn my back on my East Coast roots. New York winters make me hate the city with a passion, make me constantly question my foolish devotion to it. I thought maybe the cold weather just exacerbated my distaste for Astoria. Maybe being cold made me hate it because being cold made me hate everything.

But then the temperatures rose and I fell in love with New York again. I remembered why I am here to begin with, as I do every year when the city begins to thaw. And soon, I realized that it wasn’t the weather at all. It was me. I missed Manhattan. I hated feeling so far removed from it. I resented the fact that it would take me an hour and a half on the subway to get home from a late West Village night and paying monumental tolls when I chose to be fast and lazy and take an Uber. I missed seeing my friends whenever I wanted, because they were all in Manhattan and sometimes being in another borough might as well have been in another country.

I was tired. I was tired of being angry about my situation. I was tired of being unhappy. So I decided to do something about it.

I’m moving back to the island, back to Manhattan, my ever tempestuous love. I’m still making an adventure out of it. West Harlem is not the West Village – definitely uncharted territory – but I’m excited to give it a go.

You are in control of your own happiness. I know that sometimes it doesn’t seem possible to change things, and sometimes, it really isn’t. I know, believe me. My impatience is no secret. So I know how easy it is to convince yourself that things will never change and your life is going to be stuck this way forever, but really, it’s not. Things fall into place when they’re supposed to, and if you don’t grab opportunities to do what’s best for yourself, you’ll regret it. Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish. Sometimes it’s necessary. You do you, and don’t for a second feel guilty about it.

So now I sit and take in this empty bedroom. One thing remains on the wall. It was the first thing to go up when I moved in. It will be the last thing to pack when I leave. It will be the first thing tacked onto the wall at my new place when the boxes start to get unpacked.

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Two years ago, I looked around my shoebox room in my old shoebox apartment. My roommate was particular and had rules, and no nails in the walls was one of them. Save for a photobooth print of my sister and myself taped beside my bed, I had nothing.

It felt cold and lonely and very much not-mine. So the next day at work, I printed out a photo of Stevie Nicks in all her black and white vintage gypsy glory on a piece of tabloid sized office paper, carefully rolled it up and secured it with a rubber band, then carried it home in my bag at the end of the day. Hours later, when it was smooth and flat, I taped it next to my door, directly on the wall no more than 6 feet across from me.

It stayed there for nearly a year and a half, almost watching over me. It was the one thing that made what at times felt like a claustrophobic cell feel like home. It was the one way I was able to mark my territory.

Plus, there’s something special about that photo in particular. It’s in the effortlessness, the on-point bohemian rock gypsy aesthetic goal, the cool and the confidence that Stevie Nicks radiates. The poster, for lack of a better term for its cheap substitute, was, and continues to be, good juju. It sounds silly, but I believe in that kind of thing. When it came time to leave, I knew I had to take it with me.

Discretely tucked inside my closet, it’s what I see when I try on outfit after outfit in the morning, scrutinizing myself. More times than not, I inadvertently glance at that iconic image of such a chill, cool girl. It’s a “What would she do?” moment. It’s a suggestion: “Don’t care so much. Don’t over-think it.” It’s a partially crumpled piece of paper that reminds me how far I’ve come and how much I’ve done in such a short time.

Even though it’s looking a little worse for wear now, there’s no doubt that poster will come along to take a spot in my new room. Like every adventure before this one, it will be there.

Ghost Streets

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

These are the streets of our people.
The streets of ancestors not by blood, but by spirit.
These are the streets of the poets and the artists, the gypsies and the priests of nothing.
The streets of the people whose greatest fear was being ordinary.

Things are different now.
Things will never be the same.
There will be no more sleeping in the park, no more jam sessions, no more artists starving and scraping by until fame and fortune fatefully strike.

They turned CBGB into a designer clothing store.
NYU bought almost everything.
Old brownstones give way to high rise buildings that sit empty, shells for Middle Eastern oil tycoons to house their money.
They cast their shadows on history, as if they’re purposefully trying to erase it.

But at night, when the city gets quiet and the moon is clear and full and bright, the shadows are gone. If we try hard enough, squint just a little bit, daydream just a little more, we can see the ghosts of this city’s past.

We see Patti Smith sleeping in Washington Square Park.
We hear Bob Dylan’s sandpaper voice leak out from the Bitter End.
We envision Jimi Hendrix walking through the door of Electric Ladyland.
Carly and Joni. Simon and Garfunkel. Kerouac and Ginsberg. They’re all still here, somewhere.

Maybe we romanticize things too much.
Maybe we are naive.
Maybe we are foolish.

But remember that we are just kids.

We are the sensitive ones.
The ones who feel things.

We find inspiration in the soft breeze of a warm summer evening, the first brisk fall day biting your cheeks, the light of the moon.

We dare to dream.
We dare to believe in possibilities.
We dare to think that our wishes and desires are important, not silly and unrealistic.
We believe in magic, especially after midnight.
We are not soft. We just refuse to allow the world to harden us.
We refuse to be ordinary.

So at night, we walk the streets with the ghosts and we can feel it in our bones.
We are home.

On New York

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetThis post originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

One of the things I’ve always liked best about New York are the intimate glimpses into strangers’ daily lives I am given. In the subway, at Trader Joe’s, walking down Fifth Avenue, there are people. In New York, people cry in public, display affection, scream and smile and laugh. About what, you can never be sure, but the raw emotion is on full display, leaving your mind to fill in the blanks. Sometimes the streets are crowded with strangers; sometimes the city feels eerily empty. But there are always people. Alone, together, weary, elated, contemplative, vacant, the list goes on. I watch them, imagine what their lives are like.

In my four years living in this city, I have become an anthropologist of sorts. I studied the people when I wasn’t studying for class. I still study them. You can learn a lot about a city in four years – hundreds of pages could be written on the subject – but in four years, you’ve hardly learned – let alone seen – everything.

There are certain things about New York, both the city and its people, I have come to appreciate as the time has passed. It’s a city of contradictions. New York celebrates its history as it boasts its modernity at the same time. For every state-of-the art skyscraper built, there is a 19th century Gothic style courthouse turned into a public library. Walk through the city and you will be treated to stunning visuals. An aimless spring stroll through the meandering West Village streets is one of the most romantic and beautiful treats to the eye. But the sights aren’t always stunning in a good way. A similar walk through industrial Brooklyn elicits wonder that such desolation coexists with the cultural epicenter of America.

People are another eccentricity of New York that will continue to fascinate me. I live for the moments on the street when strangers ask me for directions. For a non-native New Yorker, it is self-validating. It is pride-inducing. No matter what my mood or feeling towards the city (we are in a tumultuous love/hate relationship), someone assuming you know more about this maze of concrete than they do is an ego boost. You are one of us, New York coos in your ear when you successfully direct a southern tourist to Houston Street, subtlely correcting their mispronunciation from hue to how. When someone asks me for directions, it implies that to somebody, I am a New Yorker. I am not an oft-complained about tourist. I am not a temporary transplant from some small town. I am a New Yorker.

Calling someone a New Yorker holds much more potency than, say, a Californian or a Philadelphian. It rolls off your tongue far better, for one. But realistically, there are few other places where a geographic location is associated with a persona. Here, the possibilities are endless. New Yorkers are young and old, successful and struggling. They are artists and bankers, nannies and doctors. And so on, and so on.

There is no typical New Yorker, but love them or hate them, you have to admit it: New Yorkers are on a different level than every other citizen. Whether this level is superior (better dressed, better spoken, better street smarts) or inferior (ruder, more rushed, more jaded) is up for debate. But that distinction between a New Yorker and everyone else is significant, regardless its tone.

If there is one thing I have learned about New Yorkers, it is that we all came here from somewhere else. New York and all its history, eccentricities, and beauty, is anyone’s for the taking. But at the same time, it isn’t a city for everyone. Some will stay – forever, for months, for years – but plenty more will leave. To be a New Yorker, you have to learn that for every grand spring morning, there’s a bitterly cold winter. For every peaceful day in Central Park, there’s a loud rally in Union Square. Don’t try to see the stars at night; the glow of the skyscrapers will dilute the view.

If it sounds like New York isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that’s fine. Because it isn’t. Illusions are made to be broken. I came to New York naïve and full of fantasies. I would be like the Olsen twins. I would be like Carrie Bradshaw. I would wine and dine and write madly late into the night. My life would be fabulous and the city would embrace me. Welcome home!, it would cry.

But New York is not like that. My first semester here was one of the coldest, a winter where the snow refused to melt until April and the New York Times ran a headline boasting a record 12 days had passed without snowfall. It’s impossible to look and feel glamorous when you slush along dirty New York streets in rain boots and a down coat.

I have been stuck under the East River in delayed subway trains; I have been nearly run over by cyclists. Cab drivers have taken me on long, winding routes through stop and go traffic, ending in a $20 fare that should have been $7. I’ve dealt with grocery prices just as high as the noise level. Strangers on Broadway have seen my underwear on particularly windy days.

Now, I walk the city streets, lost in my own thoughts. My heartbeat and footsteps fall into rhythm with the music pulsing through my headphones. Christmas lights still glitter in the trees that line Park Avenue, a touch of magic in the dull, gray sky. I love New York. I love New York. I love New York, I repeat, like a mantra, almost as if I’m trying to convince myself that the words I speak are true. Do I love this city? Do I really? Or do I just tell myself that I do because I am too afraid to leave?

The prospect of leaving fills my heart with panic and despair. To leave is to give something up, and I’m not certain I’m ready for that yet. This love/hate relationship is far from through. There is still so much to do, to see, to accomplish. I know that the good, the small beauties of the city, outweigh the bad, at least for now.

Like Joan Didion in “Goodbye to All That,” I may not be from here, but I finally reached the mirage that I had been dreaming about since childhood. I can only be so lucky if I later reflect on this time – both the moments of excitement and moments of boredom – like Didion:

“I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.”