new york new york: the beginning

Living here, I try not to let myself miss America often because expatriotism likes to haul victims off to cultural bubble pits, smelling  like the pizza of their native land. But I think today can suffer my nostalgia. Well, I’ve forgotten which side of the road it is to enter my Kentucky neighborhood, and it’s bothering me.

New York got travel in my blood, I would say intravenously, except it had to have been the coffee. Those two years ago that my travels began, we bused up from Virginia, leaving behind the mountainous September oranges, and arrived seat-sore and city-shy. My only wish was to be as posh as Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and local as all my artistic college friends, who had transplanted ages ago. Also, absolutely not touristy. (Not certain how well I accomplished that when, for one example, my friend told me that Alfie Boe was playing Valjean in Les Mis and I started crying in the street.)

Dreams do come true.


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What’s in New York but dreams? Dreams like restless animals, longing to stretch their legs. I doubted it for a long while when I clung sensitively to small towns and safety. And in those days, if it hadn’t been where all the artists went, I should have argued there was nothing to write about in that vast cement town. But curiously, though the dreamers and makers are all there and still there and still getting there, the creative heart of the city has yet to fail.

…dreams like restless animals, longing to stretch their legs.


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I kept my hands in my pockets and my eyes to myself, mostly. But despite the usual blue spectacles of skepticism, my heart swelled as I walked in an ant’s tiny silhouette dance along the rows and heights of spray-painted American-ancient urbanism–that old not-old aura of splintered sidewalk and crumbling edifices and decaying churches. “Oldness” that, rightly, Europeans scoff at…but excuse them, it’s ours. It then became mine.

Long hair knotted up in the brisk winds that played with the city, whooshing by, a cat with a ball. My nose ring sparkled, making me feel just about cool enough to own my space in that urban world. And though it seems so silly a ticket to acceptance, knock not: it worked. A young textiles worker chatted me up about spirituality and loneliness while we rode side-by-side on the subway. In a bagel shop, a theater aspirant with braces chuckled at my accent and asked about my sister, who had played Cinderella in his favorite musical. And on the anniversary of 9-11, a Russian woman with a massive husky in a tee-shirt spoke to me of the weight she continued to feel, an immense sadness that sometimes came and sat on her chest, at the evils of the universe.

If I returned to New York now after sharing space and time with the true ancients and even bigger metropolises of this hemisphere, I’d like to say that my naïve adoration would have worn off. That city will never be mine, except in dreams.

But that’s not the way magic works, is it?

Perhaps that is all the magic that remains in the world: going where others have gone before and dreaming in the ocean of their dreams, failed — futile — fervent though they may be. And in going, there’s always a vague chance: one dream might settle down in your soul and make itself yours.


I leave you with a suggested soundtrack in honor of the city that woke my wanderlust. May the road find you too, fellow passenger…

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His middle name was something Italian, and those dark tresses draped him like a morose cloud. He was introduced to her as “my hairy castoff brother.” They had caught him smoking out front of the local pizza joint, and she’s not sure what all was in the cigar. Those hooded eyes, they were shot through with veins, like faults in the earth or lightning.

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(Un)alphabetized Dictionary of Things

Favorite things, to be specific.

Blue (noun)

Skywide paper you doodle on in cloud language 

Perks of Being a Wallflower (verb)

To lie awake on top of bedcovers, gulp down pages, and hear songs in your head, all while feeling very grown up

Irish Breakfast Tea (noun)

A state of earthy wakefulness

Fleet Foxes (verb)

To roll the windows down and smell spring on the mountains

Jane Eyre (adjective)

Having an underappreciated classic quality with a dash of midnight gothic, “it’s complicated” love, and pure humanity

Snow day (adverb)

When late-morning dreams are kindest to you; the hot-chocolating of an action

Painting (noun)

The art of exploding with bad art when journaling just won’t do

Stringlights (adjective)

Christmas-y; gentle; (noun) fluorescent-room fixers

Moose (noun)

The state of being artlessly oneself and antlered

Autumn (noun)

A long gray road along which trees bend windily into an orange state; also, a need for the taste of cinnamon in one’s mouth; (syn.) Bon Iver, Bon Iver or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Letters (verb) 

to smile at the mailman and get a paper cut while wrenching handwritten love from the case; to remember the days of thinking “manilla envelope” was “vanilla envelope” and admit — letters are better than ice cream


here’s to lynchburg

The world of Lynchburg, Virginia cannot be tasted in its fullness by simply dipping a ladle into its hot, dark depths and drawing out what we will.

To capture it, truly, we’d have to eat the whole thing.

But where to begin?

A Christian college resides there. And the college named after the city itself. There are also a great many churches, one once attached to the Christian college like an extra arm.  Or the original rib that sprouted a whole new creature. Lots of residential neighborhoods sprinkle the outskirts of the city, and it is lined in blue mountains, but the core… that is music.

Downtown, past L. Oppleman’s thrift store windows stuffed with gold-gilded silverware and eyeless manikins…past leather-chair restaurants with hurricane lamps…past spouting fountains near a children’s art museum and giant metal rainbow bugs that college kids climb…past the Depot Grille exhaling good greasy smells that trains whip away… there. Right there. A breathing underbelly of culture rages in the black night.

It pulses with a heartbeat formed of toms and chains, tambos and cymbals shattered by wooden sticks. If you place your feet just right, you’ll move with the bass to some ethereal low region of your gut and of the world. It is dark there too, warm and red. I am alive with the bass, you say, and you soak the spicy smells of craft brew and hand-tossed pizza into your clothes for tasting later. Later: in a dream or a regret or a wish that you tie to a star, for the wish may last as long as your eternity or someone else’s, just as the star wraps you to yourself, your dancing friends who pulse with the bass like you, your long-lost sibling once over seas, now below the earth, and some soul you’ve never met.  You are never to be satisfied except in the God you believe in, but somehow not like many others believe, the angry others, the foggy-eyed others, the others with frozen smiles. God isn’t everywhere in all unhallowed earth things, but right now he must be here, hearing this, you think. And drop by drop, your soul fills up, glassfuls within you collecting bass in blood.

Here, we hike. Here, we canoe and jump bridges. Here, we wear holey jeans bought in Goodwill raids. Here, we rock sock buns, pierce left nostrils. Here, we symbolize ourselves in Bible languages and, somewhere skinward, hide the words in ink. Here, we eat so-so food until you Get Downtown. And there, the hipsters formerly known as hipsters live.

Here, we slave over books with broken spines and sigh with enlightened minds. We line literary blogs with pixelated 1950s photos and quote Plathean platitudes. We wear Toms smelling of train tracks and red clay. We beat paths to coffeeshops, weep when they close their doors, and then fundraise them back to life again. We spraypaint cement with song and salvation and solutions and bury our fingers in good dirty earth on urban riverbanks. We cry ourselves awake in words fit to madden a poet’s mind and write about it in mini Moleskines. We love, laugh, listen.

And then we dance.

Will we, children of the ‘burg so to speak, ever quite capture it? Lynchburg, our generation, the world as it is now? Perhaps not. Perhaps never. Perhaps only from far far away can we trace our city’s face with feeble fingers and begin to feel it truly.

It feels

lonesome, enmeshed, thwarted.

Like it’s breathing.

It feels

full of itself, radiant, young.

Like it’s about to sing.