In this tag I'm asking you to describe a place in your life that is a reference point for your growth and authenticity: a touchstone. New York City is such a place for me.
Wikipedia defines touchstone as a standard: a basis for comparison; a reference point against which other things can be evaluated. Each time I stay in New York, I use it as a gauge, not only of my maturity, but my ability to cope with outside influences and still be at home with myself.
I arrived in New York City as a teen-age runaway 43 years ago. I stayed in Brooklyn with two gay men who were friends of a friend. I kept this from my parents and told them I was living with a girl I had met while working at Grand Canyon. On the right is a dark alley in the neighborhood where I lived. At the end of the alley is a small white sign which reads, "No Standing." I guess once you walked down the alley to see what the sign said, you had to scurry back to the sidewalk....or else.
My new friends showed me all over Brooklyn Heights. We were in Norman Mailer country, they said. I didn't know who he was. I became enthralled with many erudite things while living with these men. This is where I developed my love of opera. One of the men played LPs all the time and it made me cry, especially Micaela's aria from Carmen.
When my parents said they were coming to visit, I found a new apartment in Manhattan with female roommates through an ad on the bulletin board at church. I was a runaway, but I was a devoted (albeit) conflicted Mormon who wanted to experience something different than Salt Lake City. My parents were against this so I rebelled and left a note on their light switch and flew to New York in the middle of the night. My time in New York in the 60's was exciting and eye-opening. I was too naïve to be frightened.
After less than a year, I moved back to Salt Lake City to pursue my new-found love: Opera. The University of Utah was what I could afford.
I returned to New York City as a young mother in 1973. I had met my husband in Opera Workshop at the University. We moved so he could get his foot in the door of the opera world. As a mother, I was a nervous person this time around in New York. I had given up my dream of becoming a singer myself and chose to support my husband in his dream. My reaction to the city at this point in my life was a result of this decision. I found the city menacing and contradictory. The bright spots in my life were my children and taking advantage of standing room tickets at the Metropolitan Opera. My husband and I took turns watching the kids and walking to the Met, which was just down the street from us. When I was 8 months pregnant, I stood and marveled at the sound of Pavoratti and Marilyn Horne in Carmen. Awe and ouch.
Little old ladies in the park were always after me for not dressing my children appropriately for the weather. "You should have a hat on that baby," they would say. They were also openly critical when I became pregnant with our 3rd son. New York was difficult. I couldn't afford it. I didn't fit in. I had too many kids and someone a half block away was murdered and cut up into little pieces.
In 1975, we returned home to Salt Lake City to have a better place to raise our family. Years later, after a painful divorce, I wrote this note while on a visit to New York:
Jan. 28, 1988. Walking through Manhattan today just like I did 15 years ago made me weepy. I've been back to New York three or four times since I lived here with my little family, but it's never made me nostalgic or sentimental before. Perhaps it's because the boys live with their father and are essentially gone. In Central Park I just wanted to sit down on a bench and cry. Not from sadness, but because I can embrace all of this now. How much I wanted to escape everything back then. I couldn't see anything for what it was.
Returning to New York City to sit in an actual seat at the Metropolitan Opera.
(all black and white photos mine)
(all black and white photos mine)